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 wallIt 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.
Dreamed a dream by the old canal
I kissed my girl by the factory wall
Dirty old town
Dirty old town
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: