Thursday, February 28, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 58: Rio Bravo

Cape May, New Jersey. August, 1963.

Arnold Schnabel, the author of these memoirs, has gone to a party with his inamorata, the bohemian Elektra. In our previous episode we left him as he attempted to join her and some friends on the second-floor porch of the massive and lovely Victorian (built by Frank Furness in 1880) home of the formidable Mrs. Biddle...

When I got to the doorway I stopped and listened to Sammy sing:
Ah, stop your train, darlin’
Let a poor boy ride
Ah don’t ya hear me callin’?
Then I went through the doorway. This was a bedroom, a night-table lamp was lit. On the opposite side of the room was a screen door, presumably opening onto the porch I’d been trying to get to all this time. I went on through the room, opened the door and went out.
At last.

A light in a blue fixture glowed in the ceiling, and Sammy sat in a rocker off to the left, with his back to the porch railing; he strummed a guitar and sang, turning his head and nodding to me:
Can’t you hear me call?
Elektra, Steve and Miss Rathbone all sat in a white slatted wooden porch glider across from Sammy. A low and narrow glass-topped table was in front of the glider, with beer bottles and ashtrays on it. Elektra raised a hand in my direction, her eyebrows raised. I sat down next to her.

“Where were you?” she whispered in my ear.

“Uh, with Mrs. Biddle,” I said, which was true enough, although not the entire truth, but I didn’t want to get in a big conversation while Sammy was singing. I did whisper, though:

“I heard you singing. It was very pretty.”

“Thanks,” she whispered back.

And she rubbed my lower back with her hand.

I glanced across to Steve and Miss Rathbone. They were holding hands, or Steve was holding Miss Rathbone’s hand. Each held a cigarette in his or her free hand, and their heads nodded slowly as they gazed at Sammy as he sang on:
Yeah, smokestack lightnin’
Yeah, hear me call
Hear me call
The porch was screened in, free of bugs. The trees I had seen from above now loomed before me, two stout oak trees, and Sammy seemed to be singing and playing in time to the brushing of their leaves against the screening in the soft and slightly salty breeze.
Let a poor boy ride
Let a poor boy ride
Elektra laid her head on my shoulder, and the four of us on the glider swung it gently back and forth.

Sammy’s eyes were closed as he sang, and even though he was basically singing just the same few words over and over again with slight variations his voice and the words carrying on these simple ringing chords seemed as true and as beautiful to me as anything I’d heard before.

It occurred to me that I was happy.

How odd.

And, me being me, it also occurred to me that right that minute all over the world people were suffering, killing one another, starving, dying.

Was it right for me to sit here feeling happy while my fellow creatures suffered?
But then it occurred to me that all these suffering people would choose to be happy if they had a choice, so what sort of insufferable prig would I be to deny myself happiness if it fell my way?

“Sing the song, Sammy!” said Dean Martin, coming through the door holding a Manhattan in each hand and with a cigarette hanging from his lips. He was dressed as if for the golf course, in a green knit sport shirt and blue trousers.

“Drinks are here!” said Shirley, following Dean through the door and carrying a tray with five more Manhattans on it.

Dean and Shirley passed the drinks around.

“Cent’ann’,” said Dean, and we all raised our glasses and drank.

Sammy asked Dean if he would sing “that cowboy song from Rio Bravo,” and Dean said he would. He pulled around the one free rocker so that it faced between us on the glider and Sammy, and he sat down. Shirley sat down on his knee.

Sammy strummed the guitar, and Dean began to sing:
The sun is sinkin’ in the west
The cattle go down to the stream
But still that familiar and horrible little voice in my head told me I didn’t deserve this. I had always felt barely worthy even to buy a ticket to see a movie, and here I was being entertained by these famous performers and absolutely free of charge while far better people than myself would have to pay good money to see them at the Latin Casino or the 500 Club.

I told the little voice to be quiet and to go away, at least for now. The moist breeze blew through the trees and through the screen. Elektra had sat up straight when Shirley handed her her Manhattan, but now she laid her head on my shoulder again. I felt her hand on my hand and her bosom against my arm.

“Hey,” she whispered, and I turned my head to look at her, into her dark eyes.

Dean sang:
Gonna hang my sombrero
On the limb of a tree
Comin’ home, sweetheart darlin’
Just my rifle, pony, and me…
That was it, I felt like I was coming home, even though it was a home I’d never had, a home I had never been to. I had walked through hell to get here. But now that I was here, now that what remained of me was here, I was glad.

Sammy joined in:
Whippoorwill in the willow
Sings a sweet melody
Then Sammy and Dean sang together:
Ridin’ to Amarillo
Just my rifle, pony, and me
The breeze tumbled a sweep of dark curling hair into Elektra’s face. I cleared it away with my fingers and she closed her eyes.
No more cows to be ropin’
No more strays will I see
Round the bend she’ll be waitin’
For my rifle, pony and me

(Go here for our next fabulous chapter. And kindly look to the right hand side of this page for up-to-date listings of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Rheingold Award runner-up Railroad Train to Heaven™, as well as to many of his poems, so eminently suitable for wedding toasts, bar mitzvahs, confirmations, and Rotary testimonial speeches.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 52: that feeling

Return with us now to that strange land known as the past as Larry Winchester gracefully gives us a glimpse into the backstory of that charming adventurer Dick Ridpath, in this, our exclusive serialization of the “director’s cut” of that sprawling epic Harold Bloom called “perhaps the most important novel written by an American since Richard Stark’s The Hunter.

(Click here to read our previous episode.)

This feeling of being watched.

To survive at his former trade Dick had done his best to nurture and develop a capacity for this feeling. But back then he had at least usually had a good idea of who might be watching him, and why. At least up until around the time of the Bay of Pigs, anyway.

By that time Dick considered it his misfortune that he just happened to be good at blowing up things and killing people. This business of the CIA occasionally “borrowing” Dick from the navy for “black” missions began back in ‘54, when he was still with the Underwater Demolition Teams, and it had continued after Dick transferred to field operations in Naval Intelligence and then to Q Section (or, as it was officially known, the Naval Office of Comparative Statistics). These missions often involved some sort of mayhem, and he had done his job each time with the same proficiency he tried to bring to every job he did. Some people were just good at things, and Dick just happened to be good at swimming or paddling into places undetected, at blowing things up and killing people and whatnot and then getting away scot free. But he was never crazy about the killing. Bumping off a local Communist Party Commissar in some Third World hellhole was not his idea of good kicks.

So Dick was not happy when he was posted down to Guatemala in March of 1961, to help train the Cuban expeditionary force. He just wasn’t interested in this sort of thing any more. Besides, he was a Q Section man now, and Q Section had gone way beyond the crudities of C-4 and the revolver and the knife.

Of course the CIA was not even aware of Q Section’s existence and had no idea that over the past few years Dick’s duties had concentrated on drug experimentation, ESP, telekinesis, Oriental methods of mind and body control, out-of-the-body travel, and investigations into the possibilities of extraterrestrial intelligence.

But still he had never quite been able to shake this reputation as a good “wet boy” -- that is, a killer -- and so the CIA continually requested his services for some sort of nastiness or other.

Usually he managed to get out of it, but if Admiral Quigley -- the founding chief of Q Section -- personally asked him to oblige, well, then Dick felt he had to.

But sometimes the Admiral would allow the mission, and then instruct Dick to disrupt or alter the mission in some way. Like the time in Ankara when he put a bullet through the brain of a top CIA asset who unbeknownst to the CIA was a mole employed by the Russians. Dick arranged it so that the CIA thought the man had died honorably, probably assassinated by Hans Grupler (who in fact had been the man’s Soviet Bloc contact). This affair had been just another of Dick’s and the Admiral’s little secrets.

The month before he went down to Nicaragua the CIA had wanted Dick to swim into Havana Harbor underwater and fix a Hagenson pack full of gelignite and cyanide-soaked needles to a fishing boat that Castro was supposed to visit. Dick had managed to get out of that assignment; but now they just had to have him for this new Cuban thing. The Admiral reluctantly assented, and, well, orders were orders, and the Guatemalan mission was supposed to be merely a training one. After only two days however he had requested -- no, demanded -- to be relieved. It was an incredibly shoddy operation, even by the CIA’s notorious “gentleman adventurer” standards; he could smell a bloody fiasco and he wanted no part of it.

He got the transfer back home, but looking back on it Dick could see that this had been the beginning of his fall from grace. It was right around this time that he first got the feeling that the atmosphere around him had changed, and that he was being watched and investigated by members of his own government, his own service.

And then one night he saw with his own eyes that at least one of his colleagues was nosing quite improperly into his affairs.

It was shortly after his return from Guatemala, and Dick had come into the Q Section warren after hours to grab his bag of Ben Hogans for a round the next morning. As he turned down the dimly lit corridor to his office he noticed light spilling from his doorway. He slipped off his shoes and took his Smith & Wesson Airweight out of his jacket pocket. Hugging the wall, he went slowly down the corridor and stopped at the doorway. He peeked in through the crack between the hinged side of the door and the jamb.

What he saw was disquieting to say the least.

It was that weasel Pym, his supposed brother officer and “friend”, sitting behind Dick’s desk, rummaging through the drawers with his left hand. Pym was breathing very heavily and Dick could not be sure because the desk was in the way, but it looked horribly as if Pym were masturbating with his right hand. Dick put his gun away, walked softly back down the hall, picked up his shoes and left, without his golf clubs.

Now on the one hand Pym could just be a nosy pervert; actually Dick was pretty sure Pym was a nosy pervert. But besides being a weasel and a pervert Pym was also Vice Admiral Hackington’s private jackal.

Dick got along famously with Admiral Quigley, but he had never liked his second-in-command, Vice Admiral Hackington, and Dick knew the feeling was mutual. Hackington was one of those guys who was born with a poker up his ass and was proud of it, and he had only gotten worse after that weekend he and and Admiral Quigley and Dick had spent with Professor Leary in Cambridge.

In fact Hackington had pushed to send Dick down to Guatemala. He hadn’t liked Dick’s resistance to the assignment, and he liked it even less when Dick requested to be relieved. When the Bay of Pigs action turned out so disastrously he almost stopped speaking to Dick entirely. And Dick continued to find evidence of rummagings in his office. One time he even noticed what looked alarmingly like semen stains on the linoleum under his desk.

Dick was glad when the Admiral approved his request to study in Nepal for a year. It was good to get away from navy and CIA politics, and from creeps like Hackington and Pym.

While he was away Admiral Quigley died -- a boating accident -- and Hackington took over Q Section. The little jackal Pym was made Operations XO, and when Dick returned he found that Q Section had sadly changed.

In January of ‘65 came Dick’s alleged “disappearance” in New Mexico, followed closely by his strange kidnapping (and even stranger release) by “foreign elements”; things got to the point where he felt he really had no choice but to resign his commission.

He would explore life and the world on his own now, no one looking over his shoulder, no one giving him orders. And that’s the way it had been, for four chaotic but rich years, the Daphne years.

But now he was being watched again, there was no doubt of that.

But by whom? And why?

He was damn well going to find out.

Should he simply confront this clean-cut nice young couple, these “Baxters”, as he had Philips and Adams?



Wait and let them come to him.

He felt very alive right now.


(Turn here for our next thrilling chapter. And, yes, midterms are once again approaching: to refresh yourself on previous episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain ™, check out the table of contents on the right hand side of this page.)

And now a brief word from the supremely talented Miss Shirley Bassey:

Saturday, February 23, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Fifty-Seven: Arnold makes yet another new friend

Cape May, New Jersey. August, 1963.

A man called Arnold Schnabel descends a staircase in a large Victorian house in Cape May New Jersey on an August night in 1963.

These are his memoirs, this is his life, this is our life...

I went past the third floor and successfully made it down to the second. There were two doorways on the front side of the hall. The door to the first was closed, but the second one was open. I walked over, and I could hear Elektra’s voice:
Heard a siren from the docks
Saw a train set the night on fire
Before I could go in however, a woman appeared in the doorway. She had red hair, cut like Peter Pan’s.

“Oh, it’s you,” she said.

As with the woman I had surprised in the bathroom just a short while ago, I felt that I had seen this woman before, or at least that I had imagined seeing her before, I didn’t know where or when.

“Hello,” I said.

“The bathroom,” she said.


Indeed this was the woman I had intruded upon as she sat on the toilet smoking a cigarette.

She stuck out a hand.

“I’m Shirley,” she said.

I shook her hand.

“I’m Arnold.”

“Oh, Arnold. I’ve heard about you.”

She held onto my hand.

She did look awfully familiar. I mean I seemed to know her from before the bathroom incident. She wore a pretty shiny green dress and she was very trim.

“I’m going down for more beer,” she said. “Would you like one?”

“Sure, thanks,” I said.

She stared at me, still holding onto my hand.

“You have an aura,” she said.

“I do?”

“Yes. It’s very slight, but I can see it. Around your head.”

“Like a halo?”

“Sort of. It’s like your head is giving off this shimmering glow.”

With my free left hand I touched the top of my head. It felt normal enough.

“I can tell you’re a very spiritual person,” she said.

All I could think was, Great, this is all I need: a halo.

“Oh,” she said, and she seemed saddened.

“What?” I said.

“Your aura’s fading.”

“Thank God,” I couldn’t help but say aloud.

She at last let go of my hand, but she continued to stand in the doorway, effectively blocking it. She seemed to be studying my eyes. I found this as disconcerting as when Daphne had done the same thing, and I looked over her head. The porch was out there. Someday I would reach it.

A harmonica had been playing but now Elektra’s voice was singing again:
I'm going to make me a good sharp axe
Shining steel tempered in the fire
I’ll chop you down like an old dead tree
Dirty old town
Dirty old town
The harmonica came back in.

“Your girlfriend has a lovely voice,” said Shirley. “And you have a very — radiant soul. I feel that you’ve been touched by God.”

“You don’t know the half of it,” I said.

“When I was holding your hand I felt like you could pull me along up into the sky, into the stars.”

“Oh, I doubt I could do that,” I said.

“You mean I’m not advanced enough,” she said.

“Oh no, not at all. I just mean I don’t think I could do that.”

“Have you traveled through the stars, Arnold?”

Forget about traveling though the stars, I was having a hard enough time just making it out to that porch.

Elektra started singing again:
I met my love by the gas works wall
“But you’re probably in a hurry to get out to your girlfriend,” said Shirley.

“Well, I wouldn’t say I’m in a hurry,” I said, trying to be polite.

“Then help me bring the beers up,” she said.

I was doomed. That porch was my promised land, my city of gold, and I would never reach it.

Next thing I knew Shirley had my hand in hers and she was leading me back to the
Dirty old town
Dirty old town
I thought of dear old Olney, the Heintz factory behind our house, the great stacks belching black smoke, the rattle of the 47 trolley, the beer smell of the taverns, the sneakers swaying from the telephone wires, the butcher shop smells of sawdust and blood, the sugary warmth of the bakeries, the wooden darkness of the confessional box...

But then I got a grip on myself. I halted, but Shirley kept going, holding onto my hand, until both our arms were outstretched, with Shirley already on the second step down. She turned her head.

“Come on, Arnold!”

“I should go see Elektra,” I said. “My, uh –”

“Your girlfriend.”

“Yes. She’ll be wondering where I am.”

“We’ll only be a minute.”

“Somehow I doubt that,” I said.


“Something will happen.”

“I’m not going to seduce you, Arnold.”

“I didn’t mean that,” I said. Not necessarily, anyway. “I just meant that something else would happen. That would prevent me from getting out to that porch.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Dean Martin will come in and want to hear my thoughts on Jesus and salvation.”

“I doubt that. You don’t know Dean.”

“I just meant that as an example.”

“You’re being silly.”

We were still holding hands at arm’s length while all this was going on, with Shirley on the second step of the stairway. We were like a poster for some dramatic movie.

She had been smiling, but now her face turned serious, and she looked into my eyes.

“You can see the future,” she said.

“No,” I said. “But I can do what I can to ward off the possibility of certain historical

“You really do have a deep soul.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Can I have my hand back?”

“Of course, Arnold.”

She let go of my hand. Its palm was warm and sweaty.

“So,” she said. “A beer for you? Or would you prefer a cocktail? A cocktail! Would you like a Manhattan?”

I told her that would be very nice.

Shirley went down the stairs and I turned back.

I realized that Sammy was singing now, and had been singing:
Oh, the train I ride on
Oh the engine shine like gold
Just like gold

(Click here to see if Arnold will catch that train. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for listings of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven and to many of his easy-to-understand poems.)

And now a word from Mr. Howlin' Wolf:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Fifty-One: that wild Labor Day Party at Rod McKuen’s

Françoise Hardy, September, 1969

Larry Winchester (“cinéaste, bon vivant, raconteur, et romancier par excellence” -- Alain Robbe-Grillet) now once again easily and all-but-unnoticeably switches to the voice of that endearing adventurer Dick Ridpath as the plot slowly but surely picks up steam in our Merck Literary Award-runner-up serialization of the novel Harold Bloom called “Western civilization’s last, and noblest, gasp”.

The time: an evening in early September, 1969.

The place: an “old-fashioned New Mexican barbecue” at the ranch of Big Jake Johnstone, just eight or nine miles outside of a town called Disdain.

To be quite honest, I felt that things were getting even more out of control than usual.

I mean really. You go through life accepting chaos as best you can, maybe it’ll all start to make some faint sense in a few hundred more reincarnations, but sometimes you’ve just got to try to do the sensible thing --

The musicians started to play a waltz, and I suddenly asked Enid to dance.

The band was almost falling-down drunk now but very peppy, and Enid’s body gave off a reassuring warmth and a faintly sandalwood-incensey smell.

How could I forget that one drunken and drug-addled night in New York when she wound up sharing Daphne’s and my bed at the Royalton. Those two had passed blissfully out while I lay there, my mind racing on LSD, and suffering a truly tortuous and endless erection. Oh believe me I was tempted. But finally, after a considerable amount of effort, I was able to arrange my own discharge, without awakening either of them, as far as I knew, anyway.

I remember lying there afterwards panting for what seemed like an hour, feeling both of their warm bodies on either side of me. And then finally climbing over Daphne to go to the bathroom and dispose of the evidence...

But I did my best to put all that out of my mind, and I got down to the business at hand.

“Y’know, Enid, I’m worried about Daphne going to this peyote thing with you.”

“Are you afraid we’ll run into those Motorpsycho guys?”

“The motorcycle guys? Well, yeah.”

True. The motorcycle guys. And Grupler and Marlene. And Philips and Adams. And the stupid radio --

“Well, maybe she’d better not come,” said Enid.

“Oh, no,” I said, “there’s no stopping her, I know that. But I was wondering if I could come along too. And, well, I’d like to bring this kid Harvey along.”


“You know him I guess?”

“Sure. Nice kid. But, Dick, you can’t just bring a crowd of people to one of these ceremonies. It’s their religion.”

“Oh. Right.”

“I mean, I figured Paco -- that’s the medicine man -- would let Daphne take part because she’s so --”


“Well, yeah,” she said.

“But I was wondering if maybe Harvey and I could just sort of observe, or wait outside. I didn’t really want to take the peyote. I mean, normally I probably would like to, but it’s just that I’d really feel so much better if I could -- just --”

I was doing my best to turn on whatever I had left of the old Ridpath charm. I gave her a little twirl, my hand on the small of her muscular back. I probably batted my baby blues.

Oh God, she seemed to be thinking, what the hell.

“Okay,” she said. “You and Harvey come along, and we’ll see what Paco says.”

“Gee, thanks, Enid --” I started to say.

And then no doubt my expression changed, turned somber, or pensive, one of those sorts of words.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Oh. Nothing,” I said.

Actually I had just placed -- or, in the parlance of my old trade, “made” -- that nice new young couple.

As we swung past this profoundly boring-looking duo I’d felt someone watching me, and as I executed another twirl I saw the guy turn his head away from me, and then in his profile I recognized the duplicitous fucker.

I felt a depressing feeling in my solar plexus. Or was I going mad? Had I overdone the drugs? I glanced at the guy again and then my glance met the girl’s, and -- yeah, right, okay:

McKuen’s Labor Day party. It had been a wild one. Drag queens, merchant seamen, strippers, a folk rock combo called the Fugs, two Tibetan monks, a fistful of Black Panthers, Joey Giardello trading boxing moves with a poet named Hank Bukowski, Alan Watts trading dirty jokes with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs discussing ESP with Professor Irwin Corey, Claudia Cardinale doing the frug with Gore Vidal, Phyllis Diller taking her blouse off, Phil Ochs strumming a guitar and chatting with Françoise Hardy, and a guy Rod laughingly introduced to me as the Acid King.

The Acid King and I hit it off right away -- it turned out we were both big fans of Jorge Luis Borges.

A half hour later the Acid King and I were sitting fascinated, high as kites, watching Buddy Greco on the Jerry Lewis Telethon. Buddy was singing “What Kind of Fool Am I” while a stoned-looking Jerry mugged it up off to the side of the stage, and I suddenly couldn’t take it any more, it was too intense, I turned away and there they were, this Hippie Couple from Central Casting -- the man in bright swirly pants, sandals, Nehru jacket and love beads, a walrus moustache, a Beatle haircut and pink granny sunglasses; the girl in this long multicolored Lady Guinevere gown with long blond hair, a purple Chinese coolie hat and oversized shades with blood-red heart-shaped lenses. Pluperfect 1967 hippies, but this was 1969, and I just knew they were phony, and probably narcs.

So I tipped off the Acid King guy. I knew he was a fugitive, but he seemed like a nice guy, and, after all, he had turned me on.

The Acid King glanced at the hippie couple and nodded. He said, “I owe you, man.” I said, “Oh, no, not at all,” and he drifted off to the bathroom, whence he crawled through the window and out onto a rooftop and away, leaving the hippie couple still standing by the drinks table, swaying psychedelically as Jerry joined Buddy for a freeform scat finale to “What Kind of Fool Am I”.

And now here were the hippie couple again, but in the guise of Young Mr. and Mrs. Straight America.

The waltz ended and Enid stood there looking at me quizzically.

“Um, let’s dance another one,” I said.

“Okay,” she said, smiling.

The band lit into an odd fast herky jerky thing and Enid and I looked at each other.

“I think I can dance to this,” I said.

“Lead away,” said Enid.

I shrugged and duly led her into a rhumba, a dance I had become quite proficient at during a stay in Havana back in ‘58.

I wanted to dance and I wanted to think. It now occurred to me that this young blond guy and his partner -- Mr. and Mrs. Masters of Disguise -- had been watching me at McKuen’s and not the Acid King at all.

What kind of fool am I indeed.

(Go here for our next enigmatic chapter. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for listings of links to other thrilling episodes of Larry Winchester’s a Town Called Disdain™, and to appreciations of many of his classic motion pictures, practically all of which are currently out-of-print, but if you’re lucky you might find some old tapes and DVDs on eBay.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Fifty-Six: lucubrations on the stairway to heaven

We pick up these memoirs of “the people’s poet” Arnold Schnabel as he races up the stairs of a stately Victorian house in Cape May, NJ, on an increasingly sultry evening in 1963...
(Go here to review our last episode. )

As I ran up between the narrow walls and veered around the first landing as if my life depended on it I thought, Why now? Why were all these females emerging from the woodwork only now? Where had they been hiding during all my former grey celibate years? Was I that much different now?

Suddenly in the middle of a flight, in the middle of a step, I halted, panting, sweating.

Yes, I was that different.

Who or what had I been before my breakdown?

I’ll tell you what: a sort of walking mummy, mechanically clumping through the world swathed in the thick stale wrappings of a personality that wanted only to worship and serve some imaginary great father who had deigned to grant me this half-life I lived.
It took going insane for me to shed those stale wrappings. Perhaps something inside me had willed me to go insane in order to shed those foul rags. But shed them I did, and I walked out of that hospital like a naked child.

And I still felt like a naked child.

But I didn’t want to go back to the old way.

If there was a God, if this Jesus who supposedly kept appearing to me was indeed Jesus, well, I was sorry but he was going to have to do without my worship. He'd had forty-two years of me, he wasn’t getting any more.

I had continued to mount the steps during the latter stage of these lucubrations, and I found myself in a hallway.

Real life always comes back to bring us down to planet earth even in the midst of our most exalted philosophizing, and so it was that I realized that I had to urinate. Bolting that last beer with the terrible and beautiful Daphne had done the trick.

I went looking for a bathroom. I found one likely door and opened it, it was a bathroom all right, but an attractive woman with short red hair was sitting on the toilet, smoking a cigarette.

“Sorry!” I blurted.

She merely shrugged and smiled as I shut the door. Her face had seemed familiar to me, but I couldn’t quite place her. I figured she must be another show-business person. A show business woman. Another woman.

Where were they all coming from? It was like an invasion from outer space.

But then I could think of worse invasions.

I went down the hall and up the stairs again, figuring a fine house like this would probably have at least one bathroom on the third floor. Around narrow landings and down a short hall I went and sure enough I found another bathroom, and, thank God or Steve or no one, it was unoccupied.

You can well believe me that I latched the door while doing my business. Lately it seemed that even the most casual trip to the bathroom could be fraught with adventure.
I felt much calmer after voiding my bladder. I flushed the toilet, washed and dried my hands, lit a cigarette, smoothed my hair, and managed to leave the bathroom without incident.

But then in the hall I thought about this female business again.

I thought about it but I didn’t come to any conclusions. Perhaps women just were attracted to men who weren’t mummies, even if they were insane. I walked along and went up some steps and out to a very small porch with a lovely ornately-carved white wooden railing. No one else was there.

I supposed they had all gone downstairs again. Oh well, I decided just to finish my cigarette in peace, staring out across the street at the rooftops across the way, at the starry sky leaping out above me and descending into the purple sea on the horizon. Treetops swayed beneath me like giant dancing girls shaking their hair and their thousands of little hands and fingers, the breeze smelled of scallops and seaweed, and, yes, of marijuana.
I heard a guitar, and then a woman’s voice singing:
I met my love by the gas works wall
Dreamed a dream by the old canal
I kissed my girl by the factory wall
Dirty old town
Dirty old town
It suddenly dawned on me that this was Elektra’s voice, and that she was singing somewhere below me. I looked around me and I realized that I was on the widow’s walk on the roof of the house. Behind me was the attic tower. I had managed to overshoot not only the second floor but the third as well.

I sighed, and put out my cigarette on the underside of the rail. I field-stripped the butt, letting the little pieces of tobacco and paper fly away on the ocean breeze, and then I went back inside. At this rate I would be lucky if Elektra even remembered what I looked like.

Well, all I had to do was go down past the third floor and to the second and then find this second-floor porch. That should be within the realm of my capabilities.

As I went down the first flight of steps I could still faintly hear Elektra’s ringing voice.
Clouds are drifting across the moon
Cats are prowling on their beat
Spring's a girl from the streets at night
Dirty old town
Dirty old town

(Click here to live Arnold's next adventure. Hie thyself to the right hand side of this page for up-to-date listings of links to other thrilling episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, as well as to many of his fine and easily-affordable poems. All rights reserved The Arnold Schnabel Society. Imprimatur Bishop John J. Graham, SJ.)

And now Mr. Shane MacGowan and the Pogues with some words from Mr. Ewan MacColl:

Saturday, February 16, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Fifty: something extremely foreboding this way comes

In our previous episode of this “meaty, beaty, big and bouncy” (Harold Bloom) epic from the battle-scarred Remington portable typewriter of Larry Winchester: the beautiful mystery woman Daphne (currently guest-appearing in Arnold Schnabel’s Costco Award-winning Railroad Train to Heaven) met up with an old acquaintance...

“Darling,” said Daphne, “look who’s here.”

Dick looked up, his mouth full of collard greens and salsa.

“It’s --”

Daphne made a tortured moue, opening her eyes wide in supplication, she was so bad with names --

But Dick gulped and said, “Enid.”

“You remember me,” said Enid. She, like Daphne, held a bottle of beer in one hand and in the other a crockery plate heaped up with smoking beef.

Dick stood up, wiping his hands on a paper napkin.

“Of course I remember you.”

“Oh, don’t get up. We’re not back east.”

Enid went around the table and sat down opposite Doc Goldwasser.

“Hi, Doc.”

“Hi, Enid.”

“Hi, Hope,” said Enid.

“Hi, Enid. I read Wide Sargasso Sea.”

“Good. Did you like it?”

“Very much. I identified with the heroine.”


Dick was still looking at Enid, flabbergasted. Daphne had sat down across from him. She reached over and tugged his arm and said, “We’re going to take peyote with the Indians.”



Squitters now sat to Enid’s other side. He was already drunk.

“Oy, Enid --”


“I wanna feel your bum.”

“Write a song about it, buddy.”

“I just might do that, love.”

His hand fumbled its way under her jacket. He loved Enid’s bum. Had some bleedin’ meat to it. Not like all these bleedin’ London birds living on a diet of crystal meth, Cuervo and Woodbines.

“Derek, darling,” said Enid.

“Yeah love.”

His mouth was smeared with barbecue sauce and she could see dribs and drabs of it in his stringy mud-colored hair.

“Do you want me to knock you clear off this bench and then put my boot-heel in your face?”


He drew his hand away and picked up a beef short rib. He tore off a bit with his jagged little yellow teeth and then leaned over and addressed Hope.

“Oy, love, what kind of music you like?” Hope turned her large dark eyes to him. “I mean,” he said, “you know -- pop, trad jazz, folk, acid fuckin’ rock --” Her mouth opened ever so slightly, but she said nothing. “You know,” said Squitters. “Music?” She stared, her eyes two black holes. “Reckon ya like folky stuff, right? Bit o’ Crosby, Stills and Nash. ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’, di di di dit. Bit o’ Nick Drake, Tim Buckley. Phil Ochs, sit by me side, come as close as the bleedin’ night. Fred Neil, been searchin’ for the bloody dolphins in the bleedin’ sea --”

Hope turned away as if she hadn’t heard a word, and gazed toward the barbecue and its glowing coals and rotating butchered beef.

Squitters, blinking and chewing, continued to stare at her.

Her dress was printed with thousands of tiny zinnia -- yellow, orange, scarlet and purple against a white background. Her exquisite black silk mantilla lay over her small shoulders and her face and her arms were the color of moonlight on still mountain lakewater.

Derek leaned over toward Enid.

“Bit of a fuckin’ la-di-da, i’nt she?” he whispered.


(Go here for our next exciting chapter. Check out the right hand side of this page to find listings of all other extant episodes of Larry Winchester’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, possibly soon to be a major mini-series event on the Lifetime Channel, starring Scarlett Johannsen, Angelina Jolie, Clive Owen, and Jake Gyllenhaal, with special guest star Pete Doherty in the role of Derek.)

Friday, February 15, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Fifty-Five: a disturbing conversation in Mrs. Biddle’s kitchen

Previously in our Pep Boys Award-nominated serialization of the complete and unexpurgated memoirs of the man Harold Bloom called “not only a great poet, not only perhaps the greatest prose writer of his generation, but a hero to schlemiels and schlimazels everywhere”, Arnold Schnabel found himself walking down a hallway in a large Victorian house in Cape May, NJ, on an August evening in 1963.

As a sweeps-week bonus to our fans, a certain young lady featured in our current episode of Larry Winchester’s a Town Called Disdain™ here makes a very special guest appearance in our program. (Check here to re-live Arnold’s first encounter with her.)

I had just gone into the kitchen and was headed for the refrigerator when all of a sudden that girl Daphne came bursting into the kitchen through an opposite doorway and practically ran into me.

“Oh, hi!” she said. “Arnold.”

“Hello,” I said. “Daphne.”

“I’m so glad you came tonight. Dick was very impressed with you, you know. And he hates everybody. I’m sorry I didn’t get to say hello before, but I was absolutely obsessed with playing badminton. Do you play?”

Here we go again.

“No, I’m afraid I’ve never played,” I said.

She was wearing yellow shorts and a matching yellow sleeveless top, and she was sweaty.

I suppose she noticed me giving her the once-over, because she asked me if she looked horrid.

“No,” I said.

“Should I change out of these sweaty clothes?”

“Are you going to play more badminton?”

“Possibly. I’m very competitive.”

“Don’t change then,” I said.

The ends of her brown hair were wet. She took one damp strand between finger and thumb, ran it away from her head and let it fall back to her neck.

“Was that your girlfriend I saw you with?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, “we’ve only been seeing each other for about a week.”

“So you work fast.”

“Or else I’m worked on fast,” I said.

“What are you doing in here? Looking for the bathroom?”

“No. I came in with Sammy and some other people, to get away from the mosquitoes, but then Mrs. Biddle —”

“She’s my grandmother.”

“Right; she stopped me and talked to me for a while.”

“Did she interrogate you?”

“She asked me some questions.”

“What did you tell her?”

“Only my name, rank, and serial number.”

She opened her mouth, paused, then smiled.

“Funny man. So where are Sammy and the others?”

“They went up to the second-floor porch.”

“Do you want a beer?”

“Well —”

“Let me get you one!”

She turned and skipped over to the refrigerator, which was a very large and modern one of the sort I’d only seen before in Doris Day movies.

She opened the doors and bent over, and I tried not to stare, even though (and because) she was facing away from me.

She twisted her head over her shoulder and said, “All we’ve got is Schmidt's in here.”

“That’ll do,” I said.

She took out a bottle of beer and a bottle of Frank’s orange soda.

“Want a glass?”

“No thanks,” I said.

There was a bottle opener nailed to the wall, of the sort you see in taverns, with a metal cup under it to collect the caps. She popped the caps on our respective beverages and handed me the beer.

“Cheers, big ears,” she said.

We each took a swig of our drinks.

“Tell me about going insane,” she said.

“My friends will be wondering where I am.”

“Briefly then.”

“It was very scary,” I said.

“So you knew you were going insane.”

“Yes, I knew something was coming.”

“And what was it like while you were insane?”

“I’ve blacked out a lot of it. But what I remember was like being in a dream. Or a nightmare.”

“How horrible. Tell me more.”

“I saw things. Or imagined them.”

“Like what?”

“Well, one night I imagined that Jesus came to me.”

“Oh my God, do go on.” She put her soda bottle down on the red formica kitchen table and stepped closer to me, which made me feel awkward. I could smell her warmth. I took another good drink of beer. “What was he like?” she asked.



“He was — very comforting. Somehow. And the next morning I woke up feeling a lot better.”

“But not completely better.”

“No. And I’m still not completely better.”

I took another drink.

“I really should join my friends upstairs,” I said.

“I’m giving you the third degree," she said. "I’m worse than my grandmother. But tell me something. Do you still – see things?”

“Yes,” I said, because for some reason or reasons I couldn’t summon the energy to lie.

“Like what?” she said.

“Like Jesus.”

“Oh boy, him again. Does he talk?”

“Does he.”

“What about?”

“Well —”

“Do you suppose he’s real?”

“No,” I said. “I think he’s a figment from a part of my brain that’s still in the dream world even though I’m awake.”

“But maybe he is real,” she said.

“I doubt that.”

“But what if whatever is in your brain is as real as what’s in the physical world?” she asked.

“I’d rather not think about that.”

I took a drink. She put her hand on my left arm.

“Tell me something else.”

What the hell, I was already singing like a canary.

“Okay,” I said.

“What do you think of Dick?”

This was a good break. I was glad to get off the Jesus subject.

“I like him,” I said.

“He’s not quite right in the head either,” she said.


“Yes. And he’s madly in love with me. What should I do?”

“Do you like him?” I asked.

“I’m madly in love with him, but I haven’t let him know it.”


I don’t know if she was aware of it, but she was squeezing the crook of my arm, with surprising strength for a girl.

“May I confess something,” she said. “Something personal.”

“I’d prefer you didn’t,” I said.

“I’m a virgin.”

I finished the beer in two more gulps and put the empty bottle down on the red table.

Then I pried her hand off of my arm.

“Well, I should find my friends now,” I said.

“I’ve made you uncomfortable.”

“Yes,” I said.

“So Dick’s all right,” she said. “In your opinion.”

“For what my opinion’s worth.”

“To be my first man.”

“Yeah. Well, see ya, Daphne.”

“But wait.” She put her hand on my arm again. “What if he is Mr. Right?”

She looked into my eyes, disconcertingly. I probably gulped before answering her.

“Isn’t that what you want?” I said.

“Oh, sure, I suppose. But then if I do find out he’s Mr. Right, that’ll mean he’ll be the only man I’ll ever know.”

“I see.”

“So I’m wondering if maybe I should know some other men first,” she said. She ran her thumb along my biceps muscle. “Build up some sort of a basis for comparison. Then after a few years I could give Dick a go. See how he measures up. What do you think of that as a plan?”

“What if Dick meets someone else in the meantime?”

She stopped rubbing my arm and tugged at the sleeve of my polo shirt.

“Dick is always meeting someone else, believe me; there are no flies on Dick. But he’ll wait for me.”

She tugged on my other sleeve with her other hand, as if to make sure they were even.

“How do you know he’ll wait?” I asked

“He’s told me he would wait for me.”

She wet her fingertip on her tongue and began rubbing a place on my shirt, over my chest. I looked down. I had a mustard stain, and she was wiping it off.
A chorus of ancient laughter crackled in from the hallway, from the direction of the dining room. One of the card-players must have made a joke.

“I really should go up now,” I said.

“I disturb you.”

“Yes,” I said.

Now she was playing with the collar of my shirt. I was drenched with sweat, as if I had just played a vigorous round of badminton myself.

“It’s too bad you’re Dick’s friend,” she said.


“Because if you weren’t I might kiss you.”

“Well, I’ll be going now.”

Once again I pulled her hand away.

Then I turned and reeled out of the kitchen.

I seemed to remember seeing a staircase, and sure enough I found it, and bolted up the steps two at a time.

What was it about insanity that women found so appealing?

(Perhaps the answer lies in our next installment. Turn to the right hand side of this page for listings of links to other steamy episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven and to many of his immortal poems.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Forty-Nine: it seemed kind of like a cool idea at the time

Our CVS Literary Award-shortlisted serialization of Larry Winchester’s sprawling epic continues, on a fateful evening in early September, 1969, at the Johnstone Ranch, some several miles outside of a town called Disdain. (Go here for our previous episode.)

Today’s chapter features not only the audience favorite Daphne Ridpath (currently guest-appearing in our other serial Railroad Train to Heaven), but the return of Enid, the attractive sculptress and proprietress of Enid’s Café...

All heads turned as one and all conversation ceased as Daphne came out onto the back porch wearing her purple velvet St. Laurent three-piece trousersuit with a ruffled rose dandy shirt and floppy black satin bow tie. On her head was that funny oversize newsboy’s cap from Mary Quant in black PVC. It had a little battery inserted in the bill and when you flicked a switch little lights all over the cap would start blinking on and off in various colors. She left the lights off for the time being.

Even the drunken musicians were affected by her entrance: they fell choppily out of the song they’d been playing (“Guantanamera”) and then segued reverently into the “Theme From a Fistful of Dollars”, the trumpeter blowing his horn directly at Daphne.

She stood there surveying the scene and basking in the admiration flowing warmly up from the people below.

On examining herself in the mirror in their room she had noticed a thick stain of probably human provenance on the jacket’s right lapel, but as she had already spent over an hour getting ready she decided to accept this minor flaw.

She had read once where the weavers of Persian rugs always deliberately put in one flaw so as not to impinge upon Allah’s monopoly on perfection. Personally Daphne did not find Allah’s works anywhere near perfection, and although in her personal appearance perfection was her goal she believed that after a while, after an hour or so of dressing and make-up and hair (maybe two, tops) you just had to say the hell with it and stride on heedlessly.

Well, let’s see, who is here?

Dick appeared to be behaving himself, sitting at a picnic bench and eating while talking to that crusty but somehow lovable doctor.

And there was that little Hope person sitting next to Dick, sipping Dr Pepper out of a bottle with a straw, and smiling with only one side of her mouth. Daphne was wondering if she’d better go and sit herself between those two when an old truck pulled up near the yard and a woman got out of it.

A tall good-looking woman with curly hair pulled back in a loose ponytail, wearing jeans and a rawhide jacket, a shiny silvery shirt and a red silk scarf and red cowboy boots.

She looked familiar.

The woman in her turn surveyed the scene, and then her eyes met Daphne’s. The woman stared across the yard at her for a long moment and then walked over to the porch.

The woman stood there on the ground and looked at Daphne with a half smile.

“I know you,” she said.

Daphne came down the steps. She liked this woman already.

“Where the hell do I know you from?” asked Daphne.

“A couple of years back in New York. We met at Max’s Kansas City. The Velvet Underground were playing. We went to a party at Andy Warhol’s and I slept in the same bed with you and your husband at the Royalton.”

“I remember now.” And Daphne did, sort of. It had been one of those nights. She was more than a little vague on this sleeping-in-the-same-bed business, though. “How are you?”

Daphne gave her an affectionate kiss on the cheek. Or rather she touched her cheek to hers while kissing the air so as not to smudge her lipstick.

“I’ve got to tell you flat out though,” said Daphne, “I’m drawing a blank on your name.”


“Right. I knew that. And I’m --”


“Right. You’re obviously far less self-centered than I am.”

“You look so pretty,” said Enid.

“Thank you. Thought I’d dress up a bit. Think I’m a bit overdressed now that I look around.”

“Not at all. You look beautiful. I know you barely remember me but I’ve thought about that night in New York. It was one of the best times I’ve ever had. I regretted we didn’t at least exchange phone numbers.”

“Well, Dick and I don’t really have phone numbers for very long. But I’m so glad we met again. Do you live around here?”

“Yes. I told you all about it that night you know.”

“I have a mind like an absolute sieve, darling. So please don’t hold it against me. Are you hungry? Let’s get some food.”


Daphne took Enid’s arm and they started toward the barbecue pit.

“So you’re staying here, at the ranch?” asked Enid.

“I know, can you believe it? What are you doing here? You’re not friends with this Big Jake personage I hope.”

“God no. But I am friends with that skinny little Englishman staring at the band over there.”

“Oh,” said Daphne, “the rock and roll guy. He’s in the Who?”

“He wishes. His name’s Derek Squitters. I had a brief affair with him about a year ago and now he’s shown up and I have to take him to an Indian peyote ceremony.”

“Fabulous,” said Daphne. “Can I come?”

“Well,” said Enid, “Daphne, the Indians are a little -- you know -- territorial about these things. It’s only because I’m friends with the local brujo that Squitters is being allowed -- that and the fact that Derek’s paying the man five hundred
dollars --”


Brujo -- medicine man.”

“Oh, fabulous. Please let me come. He’ll let me come. I’ll turn on the charm.”

“I don’t know,” said Enid.

“Oh, please, just let me come and if he doesn’t let me stay I’ll just come back to the ranch.”

Enid knew she should have said no, but she was so charmed herself by Daphne that she really wanted her to come. To tell the truth she wasn’t really looking forward to an evening of doing peyote with Squitters. It would be fun to have Daphne with her.

“Okay,” she said. “We’ll bring you and we’ll ask Paco.”

“Is Paco the brujo?”


“Fab. Am I dressed okay?”

Enid looked Daphne over.

“My cap does this,” said Daphne, and she switched on the little blinking lights.

“I think we’d better do without the little lights,” said Enid.

“Okay.” Daphne switched them off. “But otherwise I’m okay.”

“Yes,” said Enid. “More than okay.”


(Go here for our next thrilling chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find a listing of links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain ™, a Sheldon Leonard/Dick Powell Production for Batjac Films.)

And now a word from Signor Ennio Morricone:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part Fifty-Four: Arnold meets the undoubtedly redoubtable Mrs. Biddle

In our previous episode of Arnold Schnabel’s critically-lauded ( unholy consanguination of Erroll Flynn’s My Wicked, Wicked Ways, David Niven’s Bring on the Empty Horses, and Casanova’s Histoire de ma vie.” -- Harold Bloom) memoir, our hero found himself sharing some doobage at an evening cook-out with his inamorata Elektra, his possibly divine friend Steve, and Mr. Sammy Davis Jr.Cape May, NJ, August, 1963.

We headed back to the main part of the yard, and I had the strange sensation that I was a movie camera being rolled forward into the midst of the party-goers. Elektra had her arm in mine, and it felt as if she were guiding me along.

“How’re you doing, lover?” she asked me.

“Okay,” I said.

Just this brief exchange of words was enough to transform me from being a movie camera on a track into one of the actors in the movie. I couldn’t tell if I was the star, though, or a supporting player.

Our little group headed towards where Miss Rathbone stood chatting with Joey Bishop.
Steve lost no time in going right up to them. Joey and Miss Rathbone were talking about Joey’s TV show.

“Excuse me – Joey?” asked Steve.

“Yeah?” said Joey.

“Could I talk to Charlotte for just one second?”

Joey looked at Miss Rathbone questioningly.

“What is it, Steve?” said Miss Rathbone.

“I’m really really, really really, really sorry, Charlotte. I was an unthinking boor. Please forgive me.”

Miss Rathbone looked at him with pursed lips.

“Should I take a hike?” asked Joey.

“Please forgive me, Charlotte,” said Steve. “Wait, don’t move.”

He raised his hand, as if to slap her.

“Are you insane?” she asked.

In one swift motion he slapped at her hand and squashed a mosquito that was sitting on the outside of her thumb.

“Got him!” said Steve, and he flicked the dead bug off her hand.

“Oh. My hero,” said Miss Rathbone.

“Dude strikes like lightning,” said Sammy. “Hey, people, we were just gonna go inside to get away from these little beasties. Wanta join us?”

“Okay, I’ll come,” said Miss Rathbone, rubbing her hand. “Would you care to join us, Mr. Bishop?”

“No, thank you very much. I’m going to mingle a bit.”

“You don’t have to worry about Steve, Mr. Bishop,” she said.

“Oh, no, I’m not worried,” he said. “I just gotta — you know —”

“It’s cool, man,” said Sammy.

“I’ll catch you good people later,” said Joey. “Really nice meeting you, Miss Rathbone.”

He went off, and Miss Rathbone said to Steve, “See, you scared him away.”

“I did not!” said Steve.

“It’s very cool, man,” said Sammy. “Come on, let’s breeze.”

We all went around to the front of the house and up the steps to the porch.

“This is nice,” said Miss Rathbone. And it was. The porch was screened in, and there was even an Igloo cooler with ice and cans of beer in it.

“I know someplace nicer,” said Sammy. “And with a bit more shall we say privacy.” (He pronounced privacy like privvacy, with an English accent.) “Follow me.”

We went into the house, through the living room, and into the dining room where an old lady sat playing cards with a few other older people of both sexes.

“Well, hello, Mr. Davis,” said the lady.

“And hello to you, milady,” said Sammy and he went over and kissed the lady’s hand.
The room, like the living room we’d just passed through, was very modern. Well, 1930s modern. It was like one of those sleek large rooms in an old Fred Astaire movie, which was odd, because the house was a Victorian that must have been at least as old as my aunts’ house (which was a hundred and four years old.)

Sammy introduced us to the lady and her friends. Her name was Mrs. Biddle, and I was just barely able to put it together that she was “Mac” MacNamara’s mother-in-law, in other words the grandmother of Daphne, the young girl that my new friend Dick was in love with. The other old people’s names went into my ears and right out again at the speed of sound.

“We just thought we’d head up to the second-floor porch, Mrs. Biddle. Get away from the mosquitoes.”

“Great idea, Sammy,” she said. “Those dreadful mosquitoes. I’ve phoned the mayor to have more trucks come by and spray DDT but he said it was too dangerous. I suppose he’d rather have us die of malaria.”

While saying this she took a cigarette out of a box on the table and screwed it into a shiny jet-black holder. Quick as a shot Sammy had his lighter out and he gave her a light.

“Politicians,” said Sammy.

“They’re all a bunch of bums,” said Mrs. Biddle.

“We’ll just head up then.”

“Stop in the kitchen and take some beer out of the ice box. There’s plenty. Mac always goes overboard for these get-togethers. Or mix yourself some cocktails.”

“You’re too kind, Mrs. B.,” said Sammy.

We were all herding on out when Mrs. Biddle lifted up a rattan cane that had been leaning against the table and grabbed my arm with its hooked handle.

“What is your name again?” she asked me.

I told her my name.

“Don’t your aunts have the house on North Street over near Perry?”

“Yes,” I said.

It never fails. Everyone in this town knows everyone else’s complete family tree going back four generations at the very least.

“Tell them I’ve quite admired their garden this summer.”

“I will,” I said.

“Their gladioli are extraordinary.”

I didn’t really know what to say to this. And I realized that the rest of the crew had left the room, leaving me alone with Mrs. Biddle and the other old people.

“How are you?” she asked.

So of course she knew all about my breakdown.

“I’m — I’m doing okay,” I said.

“Was that your lady friend, that dark-haired girl?”

I mumbled an assent, and waited for the reference to Elektra’s Jewish heritage, but instead Mrs. Biddle only said, “Very pretty.”

I stood there a moment, and it occurred to me that I had never actually seen anyone smoke a cigarette using a holder before. Not in real life, anyway.

She seemed to be appraising me. I half-expected her to ask me to leap about and cut some capers for her, but instead she said only, “Do you play canasta?”

I confessed that I did not.

“I suppose poker is your game?”

“I’m afraid I have no game,” I said.

“And you a railroad man?”

It’s true, railroad men play a lot of cards, but I never did. Never shot craps, either. I was not, never had been, and undoubtedly never would be a regular guy. And it was too late to start now.

“How is your poetry-writing coming along?”

“Not bad,” I said.

“I don’t know why, but you intrigue me,” she said. “Come by and visit me and we’ll talk.”

“Okay,” I said. What else could I say?

“Don’t make me come looking for you.”

I told her I wouldn’t.

“A man of few words,” she said. “I like that.”

“Still waters run deep,” said an old man at the table. He looked like Edward Everett Horton, and the way things were going this night, he might well have been Edward Everett Horton.

“Are you deep, Arnold?” asked Mrs. Biddle.

“Sammy thinks I am,” I said.

“Oh, then you must be. Well, go join your friends,” she said, and she picked up her hand of cards.

I left the dining room and went down a hall. I saw a stairway which one might reasonably have expected would take me to this second-floor porch, but I also saw a large kitchen, and I remembered what Mrs. Biddle had said about helping ourselves to some beer. That sounded like a good idea.

(Click here to find out what happens next, if anything. Turn to the right hand side of this page for up-to-date listings of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of his fine poems.)

Friday, February 8, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Forty-Eight: Dick converses with Messrs. Philips and Adams

September, 1969, and good old boy Big Jake Johnstone has decided to throw a good old-fashioned barbecue at his ranch, in the vain hope that someone, somebody, will not think him the pathetic phony cowardly blowhard he is.

On hand this evening, besides good old Jake himself:

Harvey: the young returning soldier.

Dick and Daphne Ridpath (AKA “Smith”): that mysterious and glamorous couple.

(a rare photo of Dick Ridpath, c. 1969)

Hans Grupler and his companion “Marlene” (probably not her real name, no one knows her real name): international assassins and all-round ne’er-do-wells.

Derek Squitters: dissolute Cockney rock star, in the area to study Native American religious practices.

Doc Goldwasser: the town general practitioner; addicted to morphine as the result of a war wound.

Hope Johnstone: Big Jake’s lovely but mentally unstable daughter.

Mr. Philips and Mr. Adams: supposedly geologists working for the government.

Chad and Phyllis Baxter: a "nice" young couple, ostensibly on vacation.

Various Lords, Ladies, and Attendants.

(Go here for the previous chapter in our Jackie Collins Award winning serialization of Larry Winchester's "director's cut" of his sprawling masterwork.)

Daphne hadn’t come down yet. Dick got a bottle of Heineken out of an old bathtub filled with beer and ice and stood drinking and looking around.

He wore his one good dark grey suit from Hawkes of Saville Row. Desert boots, from Abercrombie. An embroidered Mexican shirt he had bought in Hong Kong. An ascot which was actually a golden silk scarf of Daphne’s.

The sky had cleared, the stars were out, and the air was redolent of burning mesquite and scorched beef and searing barbecue sauce.

Picnic tables were loaded up with bowls of potato salad and baskets of steaming rolls and biscuits and tortillas covered with checked cloths, big painted wooden bowls of rutabaga salad, plates of hominy cakes and collards and tuna-stuffed baked potatoes and bowls of black beans-and-dirty rice and great stacks of corn roasted in the husk.

It all made Dick’s mouth water but he felt there was some business he should attend to before chowing down...

Big Jake was taking some new young couple around. They seemed familiar in a vague way, but Dick figured that was probably only because they looked like a million other boring young couples of the sort he had spent his life avoiding like the plague. Or so he hoped.

Hans and Marlene were shaking hands with the young couple and chatting amiably, Hans in a houndstooth hunting jacket and matching cape, Marlene in a minidress made of what looked like Klee-influenced shower-curtain material, slightly translucent so that you could see her black bikini underwear. Hans wore a tweed alpine hat with a dashing peacock feather. Marlene wore a plastic pillbox hat decorated with small rubber poppies.

The Englishman Squitters, sombreroed and ponchoed and black-PVC-trousered, stood staring at the mariachi band, holding a glass of yellow tequila in his one hand and a bottle of Michelob in the other.

The drunken guitarist sang a sad and beautiful song:

Donde ira, veloz y fatigada
la golondrina que de aqui se va
a donde ira?
Dr. Goldwasser sat at a table smoking a cigarette and staring at the ground.

Hope stood quietly near the fire, gnawing a bone and staring at the flames, wearing a long gauzy flowery dress with a black silk mantilla over her shoulders.

Harvey was squatting with another young fellow among a group of other ranch-hand types off to one side, just on the edge of the wavering light from colored paper lanterns hung from clotheslines strung from the house to a few scraggly pinyon trees and scrub oaks.

Dick raised his bottle to Harvey, and Harvey raised his in return.

Lots of other people about, the local gentry Dick supposed, or what passed for the local gentry.

And there stood the Messers. Philips and Adams, in their little windbreakers, holding bottles of TaB, watching.

Dick finished his beer, put the empty into a cardboard beer box on the ground, and then reached into the ice-tub and got out a fresh one. He popped the top off with the bottle opener that had a handle made from a bull’s horn, laid the opener back onto the table, and walked over to Philips and Adams.

They were clean-cut wiry young fellows. One was blond, the other one had dark hair.

“Hi,” said Dick.

“Hello,” said the dark-haired one. Dick was pretty sure this was Philips.

“Hi,” said Adams.

Philips took a nervous pull on his bottle of TaB. He had horn-rimmed glasses and a tanning-cream complexion. His face and head reminded Dick of a hostile wet seal.

“You gotta try some of that barbecue, Mr. uh Smith,” said Adams. “It’s terrific.”

“Oh, I will. But first, I’m afraid I’ve got another sort of bone to pick with you fellas.”

“Us?” said Philips.

Dick said nothing for a moment. The other one, Adams, held onto a stiff smile. He had a bulbous forehead and the sort of curly blond hair that means the boyishly good looking guy of twenty-eight will be stone bald at thirty-eight. A pug-nosed, bright-eyed, healthily sunburnt, shining-toothed eager-beaver of a professional regular guy.

Dick reached out and touched the hard place under the arm of Philips's windbreaker where his pistol was, and Philips flinched backwards.

Dick looked from one to the other, smiling.

Philips and Adams were not smiling.

Dick pointed a finger at Adams.

“You were trying to get into my room. Why?”

“It -- was a mistake -- I thought it was our --”

“Uh-huh. What are you guys? CIA? FBI? Something else? Something I’m not supposed to know about?”

Philips and Adams looked at each other, but neither said anything.

“Okay,” said Dick, “be like that. But listen. I’m an American citizen and a retired naval officer. I’ve done my bit for this country and now I just want to be left alone. You dig? Whatever you’re sniffing for, forget it. My life and my current interests have nothing to do with you.”

“Sir --” said Philips.

“Yeah,” said Dick.

“May I ask you -- just who are you, anyway?”

“What do you mean?”

“Who are you?”

“You don’t know?”

“That’s why he asked,” said Adams. “We gather that your name is not really Smith.”

Dick took a drink of beer.

“Christ,” he said. “You guys really don’t know. I hope to hell you’re not Q Section.”

“Q Section?” said Adams.

“What’s Q Section,” asked Philips.

“Oh, nothing,” said Dick. “So why are you here? Is it Big Jake, or is it --”

He was going to say Grupler and Marlene, but quickly cut himself off.

“Why should we be here?” asked Philips.

“Oh, forget it,” said Dick. He looked at them. “CIA, right? You don’t quite have that official J. Edgar poker-up-the-ass demeanor. Plus this --” He pulled open the top part of Adams’s windbreaker, revealing the holstered handgun under his arm. “That’s what -- a Smith & Wesson nine-millimeter? J. Edgar would never let a common agent carry a cool gun like that.” He closed the jacket. “So you’re CIA, right?”

“Wise guy,” said Adams.

“Yeah,” said Dick. “Oh, and you,” he said to Philips. “I’d like my radio back, please.”

“What radio,” said Philips.

“The one with the bullet-hole through it that’s in your right hip pocket.”

“It’s mine,” said Philips.

“No,” said Dick. “That radio happens to belong to my wife. She’s very attached to it. Had it since college. Unfortunately she had a fit of pique and tossed it out the window. Now I would like it back.”

The radio began to speak, somewhat muffled by the cloth of Philips’s jacket.

“What the fuck is that?” said Adams.

“I don’t know,” said Philips.

He took out the shot transistor radio and stared at it.

It was speaking in that odd metallic Australo-Basque dialect again.

“What the fuck,” said Philips.

Dick reached out and took the radio from Philips’s hand and Philips let him take it.

Dick looked at the radio and then at Philips and Adams.

“It’s a damn good radio. Works even with a bullet hole through it.”

“Wh-what is that language?” stammered Adams.

“You don’t know?”

“No, he doesn’t fucking know,” said Philips. “What is it?”

“Aztec,” said Dick. “It’s picking up an Aztec station from south of the border.”

“Aztec?” said Adams.

“No one fucking speaks Aztec,” said Philips.

“You’re so ignorant,” said Dick.

The voice stopped.

Dick put the radio in his left side jacket pocket. His little .38 was in the reinforced right pocket.

“Well, he said, smiling, “I’m gonna try some of that barbecue! See you guys later.”

He headed off toward the the fire and that slowly rotating side of beef.


(Go here for our next thrilling installment. Check the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain . Also over there you will find a listing of appreciations of many of Larry’s fine feature films. Coming soon from Ha! Karate Multimedia: Lipstick and Tears, Vol. 1, a boxed DVD set of Larry’s so-called “Women’s Picture” period, comprising Possibly Not {Susan Hayward, Dan Duryea; 1949}, No Tears For Tomorrow {Gloria Grahame, Rory Calhoun; 1949}, My Husband’s Brother {Bette Davis, Paul Henreid; 1950}, and the long-lost Two Nights in a Desperate Town {Marion Davies, Steve Cochran; 1950}.)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven,” Part Fifty-Three: Arnold in the garden of earthly delights

An August evening, 1963...

In Washington, DC , President Kennedy reviews the worsening situation in Vietnam and wonders: perhaps a surge of American troops would be a good idea?

in England a new band of moptops from Liverpool in matching collarless suits appears on the Ready, Steady, Go! television show with Cockney teen queen Helen Shapiro.

Meanwhile, back across the wide Atlantic in the quaint seaside town of Cape May, NJ, the brakeman poet Arnold Schnabel -- convalescing from a complete mental breakdown the previous winter -- attends a cook-out with his inamorata Elektra and his new friend Steve, who may or may not be Arnold’s personal lord and savior...

(Click here for our previous episode, featuring a very special guest appearance by Mr. Sammy Davis Jr.)

Elektra had taken another drag from the reefer and passed it on to Sammy.
“Steve,” she said, “you are too much, man.”
“I beg your pardon,” he said. I noticed he was holding a bottle of beer. But at least it was only beer. He didn’t seem drunk at all. Not yet. “But Alicia —”
“Elektra,” she said.
Elektra – you’re a woman, maybe you can help me.”
“I doubt that, Steve,” she said.
Sammy had taken his own series of drags off the reefer and he passed it on to me.
“You got woman trouble, man?” Sammy asked Steve, seeming just slightly surprised.
“Oh, brother, do I!” said Steve. He tugged once at my short sleeve. “Arnold, Charlotte’s mad at me. And after I brought her the calla lilies, too.”
“Did you — extol the virtues of Miss Evans in her presence?” I asked.
“Yes! How did you know?”
“I just guessed.” I was starting to learn a thing or two.
“She told me to drop dead,” said Steve. “And now she’s off talking to Joey Bishop.”
“Joey’s cool, brother,” said Sammy.
“Oh, I’m sure he’s very cool, Sammy,” Steve said, “but I happen to be very fond of Charlotte.”
“I dig,” said Sammy, but he still looked somewhat puzzled.
Right around then I realized that despite my earlier decision to abstain I was standing there smoking the reefer as blithely as if it were one of my trusty Pall Malls.
“Arnold, let someone else have a puff of that,” said Steve, and he took the reefer out of my hand and started taking his own distinctive series of long and short drags from it.
“Steve,” said Elektra, “I thought you were queer, man. What the hell are you doing fooling around with women?”
“I beg your pardon, Miss Missy,” said Steve, still dragging away. “Someone has obviously not studied her Kinsey Report.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” said Elektra.
“Dr. Kinsey said that most people swing both ways. Or at least they can swing both ways.” He finally let the smoke whoosh out in a great cloud. “If you had gone to a boys’ prep school like me you’d know exactly what I’m talking about.”
“Whatever, man,” said Elektra. “But now you’re bogarting the joint.”
“Oh, sorry, darling,” said Steve, and he passed it to her.
“No big thing,” said Sammy, and he brought another reefer out of his shirt pocket.
“So what should I do?” asked Steve, to one and all.
“Just be cool, man,” said Sammy. “She’s just putting you in your place.”
Sammy lit the new reefer with his lighter, which I now belatedly realized seemed to be studded with diamonds or little sparkly things that looked like diamonds. His initials were engraved on it: “S.D.Jr”. The diamonds sparkled in the light from the lamps flooding over the party-goers in the yard closer to the house.
Yeah,” said Elektra. “Just be cool, Steve.”
“But I’ve never been able to be cool! Just look at her, chatting away with Joey Bishop, and here I am heartbroken. Women are so complex compared to men.”
“You got that right, brother-man,” said Sammy, nodding.
“You guys are so full of crap,” said Elektra.
“Oh, you!” said Steve.
“Women are no more or less complex than men,” she said.
“You big liar!” said Steve. “At least with men you don’t have to mind every single word you say!”
“Oh, give me a break, Steve,” she said.
Elektra was hanging onto what was left of the first reefer, and I realized that Sammy had handed me the new one, and that I was duly smoking it.
“Where’s that other goofy broad, anyway?” Elektra asked Steve.
“You mean Gertrude?” said Steve. “She was talking to Frank last I saw. Why? Don’t you like her?”
“I’d like her better if she kept her eyes to herself.”
“What ever do you mean?”
“I mean she has eyes for Arnold." She took a drag from the tiny butt-end of the reefer, held it in for a moment, and then exhaled the smoke in Steve's direction. "Not that I care,” she said, shrugging one shoulder.
“Oh yes you do, Miss Jealous," said Steve. "And that roach is about to singe your delicate little fingertips.”
“Oh,” she said. She let the minuscule reefer-end fall to the grass, then stepped on it with her sandaled foot.
I noticed that her toenails were painted red, sparkling in the flood-lamp light. Had they always been painted red? I had no idea. And my eyes traveled up from her feet to her legs, shiny pale caramel, then the silky red roses swimming in the shimmering  blackness of her dress, her glowing pale caramel arms, her small strong hands tipped with red fingernails — no, I couldn’t remember if they had been red before — her gleaming shoulders and neck, her red lips, and her dark eyes gazing at the moment at a profusion of pulsing white chrysanthemums.
I wanted to kiss Elektra’s lips right then and there, but of course I knew I couldn’t. But this denial of what I wanted to do made what I wanted to do so much more precious.
(We may thank the reefer for the above observations of course.)
“Ow,” said Steve, and he slapped a mosquito on his inner arm below his biceps. “Ew.” He flicked away the dead mosquito.
“Is any one else being eaten alive?” he queried.
I suddenly realized that a mosquito was sucking my own blood out of the soft flesh behind my knee. I slapped at it but the little engorged bugger got away.
“I am,” I said.
“Yeah, me too,” said Elektra, expertly swinging down and tapping dead a mosquito that had alighted on her ankle.
“Let’s go inside,” said Sammy. “Why don’t you slide me that muggles your digits are glued to, Arnold?”
“Pardon me?”
“The reefer, brother. Slip it on over and I’ll save it for later.”
“Oh, okay.”
I handed it to him, and he rubbed out the lit end with two callused fingertips.
“Groovy,” he said. “Now let’s find a quiet place where the mosquitoes ain’t biting.”
“Should I try to get Charlotte to come?” Steve asked Sammy.
“Sure, brother,” said Sammy.
“If she just gives me one last chance I’ll never let her down again.”
“And what if she doesn’t give you another chance, Steve?” asked Elektra, touching his chin with her finger.
“Well — there’s always Gertrude,” he said, and he lifted Elektra's finger off his chin and kissed its tip.
I remember thinking right then: This is going to be a long night.

(Go here for our next exciting chapter. And step lively over to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all 3,497 episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, as well as to many of his immortal poems.)