Saturday, May 31, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 78: "Yeah. That, and everything else..."

It’s looking to be another chock-full day for Arnold Schnabel, the author of these Woolworth's Award-winning memoirs. He’s already determined to quit smoking (or at least to start to quit), he’s gone to confession, suffered a brutal nicotine-deprivation fit, had a conversation with his raffish personal lord and savior, and, thanks to a mysterious gentleman named Tommy, had a glass of special iced tea laced with laudanum. He has enjoyed the said libation in the living room of Mrs. Biddle, at whose residence he is supposed to meet the film-maker Larry Winchester. Tommy tells Arnold that Larry is waiting out in back of the house.

Cape May, New Jersey, August, 1963.

(Click here to read our previous episode.)

I went down the porch steps and around to the left on the tilting and mossy stone path. It was shady along the side of the house, with an oak tree, some box elders, some other trees whose identities I failed to note or was ignorant of.
Places always look so different in the day if you’ve only ever seen them at night. Last night the house and its grounds with its lights and its party-goers had seemed mysterious and glamorous; now the house seemed mysterious but in a more prosaic way, like an old book lying open on a table in bright sunlight.

A big and sun-sodden old house, with peeling paint and the smell of damp wood, and all was quiet, all was still, even the leaves on the trees and on the bushes and flowers.
And I had a similar feeling to the one I’d experienced last night alone in the kitchen of this house, that the house itself was alive.

I paused and put my hand on the old painted wood. It was warm and soft, almost spongelike.

Through my fingers I felt and heard babies crying, children laughing, people talking, shouting, whispering. I saw old people dying. I saw and heard young men and women grappling in darkness, some not so young.

I took my hand away and continued on to the back of the house, and I saw Larry sitting at the same picnic table I had sat at with Elektra the previous night. It was shaded by a large elm tree. Larry was sitting there with a portable typewriter. He wore khaki shorts and a short-sleeved white shirt. He had a pair of horn-rimmed glasses on, and he was absorbed in reading a bound sheaf of papers. There was a plastic flowered pitcher of what looked like iced tea on the table and a couple of matching plastic glasses.
Someone had cleaned up the yard. You’d never know there had been a big party out here the night before. There was no one else about. No sign of Frank or Dean, Sammy or Joey, or Shirley, or Dick and Daphne, or Mr. MacNamara. Just Larry.

“Hello. Larry?” I said.

He looked up, and gazed at me for a moment as if he didn’t know who I was.

“Oh, Arnold. You made it.”

“I sure did,” I said.

He stood up and took my hand. He was smoking a cigar, and he had a couple of back-ups in his shirt pocket.

“I’m so glad. Sit down.”

He gestured to the other side of the table, and we both sat down. I noticed he also had a stack of blank typing paper on the table, a notepad, a couple of ball-point pens.

“So, you ready to do some work?”

“I’ll give it a try,” I said.

“Pour yourself some iced tea. It’s good.”

“Oh,” I said. “I don’t know. I just had some iced tea that Tommy made me.”

“Oh. Was it his special iced tea?”

“Yes,” I said.

“No wonder you seem so calm. He must like you.”

“Well, he thought I needed something.”


“Not especially. But I’m trying to quit smoking and apparently I looked like death warmed over.”

“Oh. I see you’ve got a cigarette in your ear there.”

“I’m saving it for after lunch.”

“Do you want me to put this cigar out?”

“No, please don’t. I think it helps actually.”

“Fabulous. Here, have some iced tea. Don’t worry, there’s no laudanum in it. At least I don't think there is.”

He poured me a glassful. There was still some ice in the pitcher, and the cubes made delicious little clunking sounds. I picked up the glass and drank. It tasted like the tea Tommy had given me, with the spicy ginger taste but lacking that murky thick flavor which I could now identify as opium, the drug which even now suffused my being and kept me from immediately lighting up my cigarette while devouring one of Larry’s cigars whole, cellophane and all.

“So, anyway,” said Larry, “I keep doing this: I take jobs to make movies out of scripts that read like some retard wrote them. A retard who’s spent his life doing nothing but watching movies written by other retards. Oh," he interjected, recalling who he was talking to, "I — uh —”

“That’s okay, Larry. I don’t think I’m technically-speaking a retard.”

“No, I guess not. What was it, anyway, your problem?”

Like everyone else, he had heard about it.

“Well, basically I cracked up entirely, and I had to be committed for a while.”

“Uh-huh. How ya feeling these days?”

“Much better, except —”

Should I go into it? Well, it seemed only fair if he was considering working with me. Not to mention paying me.


He took off his glasses and looked me in the eyes. He seemed simply curious.

“I have visits from Jesus. And occasionally I levitate, or seem to levitate. I’ve also floated up into the air, separate from my body. Oh, and yesterday I traveled through a painting in Mrs. Biddle’s house and wound up in 1890s France, where I met the writer Marcel Proust.”

Larry took a drag of his cigar, and let the smoke gently trail up from the side of his mouth.

“Sounds like you lead an interesting life, Arnold.”

I thought about this.

“It is, actually,” I said. “At least now it is.”

“Since your crack-up?”

“Yes,” I said. “It was pretty mundane really before.”

“Working for the railroad?”

“Yeah, that, and everything else.”

“Maybe that’s why you cracked up,” he said.

“Could be,” I said.

“I could never understand it,” said Larry. “Working some job where you do the same thing every day. I realize that’s what most people have to do, but to me it’s death. That’s why I went into show biz, movies. So, you wanta hear about this script?”

“You don’t mind working with someone who’s not quite right in the head?”

“Well, you’re not going to completely flip out on me, are you?”

“I hope not.”

“Because if this is as crazy as you’re going to get, believe me, I’ve worked with lots crazier out in Hollywood.”

“Oh, okay,” I said.

“Let me tell you about this stupid script.”


So a young soldier is on leave in Paris. He meets a girl. They have a wild night on the town. They go to her apartment. Her ex-boyfriend, who has been following them, breaks in. A fight ensues. The soldier gets knocked out. When he wakes up the girl is lying on the floor dead. Someone knocks on the door. He runs out to the balcony, drops down to the pavement...Communist agents. The Corsican Mafia. A band of Gypsy thieves. An attractive Gypsy dancing girl...

“What do ya think?”

“Um, about the story?”


“It’s okay I guess. I read paperback novels like this all the time.”

“But it’s stupid.”


“I want to make it non-stupid, Arnold.”

“Well, does the story matter?”

He paused.

“I think you’re on to something. What’s a story? Just one damn thing leading to another.”

“That’s true,” I said, just to be agreeable I suppose.

“Who cares what happens?”

“Not me,” I said.

“You’re brilliant. What really matters is what’s happening while the stuff is happening.”

“Or not,” I ventured.

“Right. Sometimes nothing’s happening while stuff is happening. And sometimes nothing’s happening in the first place.”

“I find that’s quite often the case in my own life.”

“But, Arnold, we gotta have something happening. Don’t we?”

“I think so. Otherwise —”

“It’s boring.”

“Right,” I said.

“Like real life.”


“We don’t want that,” said Larry.

“No,” I said.

“So, uh, what do we do?”

“Okay,” I said. I felt as if my brain were bubbling over slightly, but it was not an unpleasant feeling. “We keep the soldier meeting the girl, and the fight, and him waking up and finding the girl dead.”

“That stuff is good.”

“Sure. I don’t know about the Communist agents though.”

“Lose the Commies. What about the Mafia? And the Gypsies?”

"Well, I don't know, Larry. As long as he meets the other girl, the dancer girl."

“Right. We gotta have the other dame. That's essential."

“Sure. You always need a dame,” I said.

“Brilliant. Okay.”

He grabbed a blank sheet of paper and rolled it into the typewriter.

(Go here for our next stunning chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an allegedly up-to-date listing of links to other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, a Joe Meek Production.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Epidode 72: le moribond

Previously in our Walgreen’s Award-winning serialization of this sprawling masterwork from the trusty Remington Portable of Larry Winchester:

Harvey, Dick and Daphne leave the quaint Quonset hut of the Native American medicine man Paco (where they had been partaking of the sacred peyote ceremony) in the company of a small grey creature in a sailor suit, and board his 60-foot saucer. Inside they discover that the evil international killers Hans Grupler and Marlene have murdered two other little grey men; a gunfight ensues, resulting in the shooting of the little sailor man and the deaths of Hans and Marlene; Dick and Harvey have both caught lead as well, but they are not quite dead yet.

Once again, Larry turns the microphone over to Dick:

So I lie there, and I’ll tell you, you kind of get accepting at this point. No use kicking and screaming. There wasn’t any pain really. Just this feeling of the life just draining out of me, like the air leaking out of a slow puncture in a tire. Daphne was leaning over me, and I sort of wanted to make some kind of farewell to her. Don’t know what I would’ve said. Nothing she didn’t know already. You know. But while I’m thinking this I just kind of slipped under. And then I saw this light and I’m thinking, Oh, right, the famous Light. How cliché, but I guess I really am getting ready to bite the big one now. And then the light starts dimming out, and I feel myself dimming out with it. And I’m thinking, Okay. Here goes nothing.

And then it was nothing.

But then I start to wake up and I see a vague light again and things clear up a bit and I see it’s only this purplish light inside the spaceship, this odd light that didn’t seem to have any source, and the little sailor guy is crouching over me and he’s got one long finger from each hand in each of my wounds, and he’s slowly pulling his fingers out, and the wounds close up behind his fingertips. I swear to God and I’ll show you the scars if you don’t believe me. Look. And look at these exit-wound scars. Like silver dollars.

But it’s sad because Daphne is holding the little guy up and he’s been shot like four or five times in his torso and in his head, and this thick green gloop is slowly oozing out of his wounds, and in the holes in his head I could see what I suppose were his brains, like a dark green caviar.

I’m still very weak, I mean like I’ve taken a couple of body shots from Muhammed Ali, and I lie back again and Daphne sort of helps the little guy over to Harvey who’s bleeding from his thigh and his side, and the little sailor does the same operation on Harvey’s wounds. Funny thing to watch, I’ll tell you.

Then I dozed off again.

And then Daphne is touching my arm and saying she’s going to find a ladies’ room. She’s got that absurd newsboy’s cap on again, but the lights are switched off now. I say okay, and she goes off. I’m lying there in a daze and I look over at Harvey. He seemed to be sleeping peacefully.

The sailor boy was lying over by the other dead spacemen. He was dead too. You could tell. Poor little fucker.


(Go here for our next thrilling chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find an allegedly up-to-date listing of links to many other episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, a Jay Ward Production.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Legend of "Gooney" McFarland

Gooney McFarland, cutting a caper at his wedding reception.

By special request we re-broadcast this tale of Olney, first published here a year ago. Enjoy:

Every neighborhood has one: the neighborhood nut-case; Olney back in the day distinguished itself by boasting dozens of neighborhood nut-cases at any given time. Every block had its nut-case, sometimes every house on the block had its nut-case, and indeed often there were heroic semidetached- and row-homes harboring more than one nutcase, or even a whole roistering clan of nut-cases. Lots of nut-cases in Olney. But in this land of the insane no one was less sane, and no one more feared, reviled, ridiculed, and defamed than one Martin de Pours McFarland, better known simply as “Gooney”.

Gooney McFarland (born in 1950 in one of those ugly "new" houses on Wentz Street, right by the Heintz factory) always seemed to get there first. He first got arrested at the age of eight, for breaking a window of Zapf’s music store and trying to steal one of their brand-new electric semi-hollowbody Gibson guitars. The young Gooney was a major Elvis fan at the time and he wanted his own guitar, so that he could learn how to play it and become a rock and roll sex king. Good thing for Gooney, his father, Frank X. McFarland, was a policeman. And Mr. McFarland’s job continued to be a good thing in the subsequent career of the young scalawag, although this career proved to be far from a good thing for that of the elder Mr. McFarland. It was solely because of the exploits of this young and then not-so-young madman that Officer McFarland was never promoted above the rank of patrolman, this proud ex-marine, this hardworking Joe who put himself through LaSalle College on the GI Bill while working fulltime as a cop, this staunch Catholic who fathered nine children (all of them good kids, except for the middle one, you-know-who).

First of the gang to be arrested, Gooney racked up many other firsts. In 1963 he became the first kid on the block to try pills. He had noticed the slick-suited boys from the “Harrowgate Mob” hanging around the corners of the Heintz factory compound. These guys were cool, with their skinny ties from Krass Brothers and their pennyloafers from Thom McAn, and Gooney wanted to be like them. The Harrowgate boys soon had the young Gooney running back and forth across the street to double-shifting Heintz workers parked in their junkers, handing over little bags of pills in exchange for hard cash, which he would run back and deliver to the Harrowgate boys in one of their souped-up Thunderbirds. The Harrowgates were always wired to the gills and of course Gooney, who would have jumped off the Betsy Ross Bridge if the Harrowgates were jumping too, tried a sample of the product, loved it, and became at the tender age of twelve the neighborhood's youngest drug addict, with a special love for the uppers called “Pink Footballs”. Alas, perhaps it was the drug that made Gooney so bold as to begin stealing from his heroes, shorting them on both pills and cash. But if Gooney was always a bold thief, he was never really a good thief. He couldn’t do anything quietly, the concept of discretion was alien and hateful to him, and he could not stand not to boast to one and all of any new crime he’d committed. So it took the Harrowgate Mob about two whole days to realize that this little brat was ripping them off. They beat him up and then tossed him down that trash-filled gorge in the woods across Front Street from Cardinal Dougherty High School. But what did Gooney care, after he finally awoke in Einstein Hospital the next day? This would be just another one of the many stories he could bore people with his whole life.

First to get busted and take pills, first to get the last piece of shit beaten absolutely out of his wiry little form, Gooney was the first to try pot as well; the first in the neighborhood to sell pot; the first to get busted for selling pot; and the first to get sent down to Juvie, despite all the best efforts of the beleaguered Officer McFarland. Down at the Detention Center at 100 W. Coulter Street, Gooney became the first kid ever to attempt escape from the roof, trying to rappel down on a clothesline that turned out to reach only to within 50 feet of the ground.

After six more months in the hospital the now permanently-limping Gooney was released and sent back to the familial mini-manse on Wentz Street. Officer McFarland, a long-time usher at St. Helena’s Church, amazingly was able to talk the priests at Cardinal Dougherty High into admitting Gooney as a freshman in the fall of 1966. He was put into the lowest academic section (section 20, “the Vegetables” as the “Brains” in sections 1-3 cruelly dubbed them), but even the easygoing courses in this nether-region (Basic Shop, Basic Phys Ed, Basic Arithmetic and an English course based on the “Dr. Seuss” books) proved beyond the limits of his attention. He drew all Fs that first semester, but this didn’t bother Gooney because he had scored in those months another first: first kid in the neighborhood to try LSD.

The incredibly patient Principal Father Dean allowed Gooney one more semester to try and buckle down and straighten out. Gooney got four Fs again. Who gets Fs in Phys Ed, anyway? Who flunks a course where the most rigorous reading assignment is “The Cat in the Hat”? A daily tripping Gooney McFarland, that’s who.

Next year it was off to the brutal grey corridors of the dreaded Olney High for our young hero. Little afraid of the striding African American teen gangs the Clang Gang and the Moroccans, Gooney blithely befriended the black kids, even affecting their mannerisms, dialect and mode of dress. He soon became the Clang Gang’s liaison-drugrunner to the school’s white kids. The Clang Gang had apparently not heard of Gooney’s treachery a few years before with the white Harrowgate Mob. But they soon experienced a similar treachery, and one day Gooney was sent sailing, flailing his arms and screaming bloody murder, out of a fourth floor window of Olney High.

Eight months in the hospital and young Gooney was back on the street, or at least back in his parents’ house, where he spent several months watching TV and getting his strength back.

The year was 1968, and every young man in his right mind was doing everything he possibly could to avoid the draft and Vietnam. Gooney of course on his eighteenth birthday took the subway downtown and volunteered for the marines at their recruiting office at Broad and Cherry. His services were refused by the USMC, on grounds physical, educational, and, most of all, psychological. Gooney marched right over to the army office and was soon frog-marched right out again and ordered never to return. The army was desperate for manpower in that awful year but not quite that desperate. The distraught Gooney went wandering down to the low bars by the docks (those same bars immortalized by Philadelphia's own David Goodis in many fine novels). In one of these reeking hellholes he met some off-duty sailors from the naval base; words were exchanged, he was taken outside and soundly thrashed, then tossed down into a forty-foot deep urban renewal excavation. So it was off to the hospital again for the patriotic young Gooney, who only wanted to serve, or at any rate who only wanted to, as he put it, “kick ass for my country”, but who instead got his own ass kicked by his country’s servicemen.

So it went for Gooney. When he had sufficiently recovered his old man got him a job as a slag shoveler at the neighboring Heintz plant. Gooney lasted almost a month. Next up was a good job as a janitor at the Tastykake factory, and Gooney managed to last three months there. During his tenure at Tastykake a young assembly-line worker named Barbara “Babbles” Boylan for some mysterious reason or reasons took a shine to the manic, hobbling, broken-nosed Gooney McFarland. She got pregnant, there was a very hurried wedding at St. Helena’s, followed by a drunken riot at the reception at the Catholic War Vets club on Chew Street, and Gooney, instead of heading off to the planned honeymoon in Wildwood, spent the next six weeks in the hospital, followed by six months' convalescence at Holmesburg Prison on four counts of aggravated assault and battery.

Released, Gooney moved into the Rosemar Street rowhome of his pregnant young wife's parents. Mr. Boylan got Gooney a job as an apprentice roofer. On his fifth day at work, while eating a hoagie and drinking a can of Ortlieb's and dangling his feet off the edge of the roof of a 75-foot high warehouse in Kensington, Gooney somehow managed to fall off.

After recovering once more, Gooney flat out refused ever to work again. He applied for a disability pension, and his father and his father-in-law (thinking only of his new baby boy and his poor wife Babbles) pulled some strings with the local Democratic party bigwigs, and Gooney was awarded a modest disability allotment.

Gooney now spent his days in the bars, any bars that would have him, but primarily the Green Parrot, the Huddle, Pat’s Tavern, and Smith’s, never visiting the same bar two days in a row lest he wear out his already tenuous welcome.

One day he walked out of the Green Parrot, took all his clothes off (it was December, and snowing) and went across 5th Street to Fisher Park, where he proceeded to roll down Dead Man’s Hill, over and over again.

It required six patrolmen to get Gooney into a paddy wagon, and his next permanent address was the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry, in the the Great Northeast section of Philadelphia, an institution popularly known simply as “Byberry”, or “the looney bin.”

Here at Byberry he achieved perhaps the most difficult of his many “firsts”. He became the first and only inmate in Byberry’s long and inglorious history to escape from the “Violently Insane” ward.

Somehow Gooney removed not only the wire mesh but the steel bars from his fourth floor window. No one knows how. There were no tools found and the mesh and bars seemed somehow simply to have been ripped with main force from the granite window frame. This time there was no rope however, merely two sheets knotted together and seventy-five feet of empty space below the end of them.

Gooney was found the next morning on the front stoop of his parents’ semi-detached on Wentz Street, clad only in his bloodied and soiled hospital pajamas and slippers, with both his legs broken and his skull fractured.

When he awoke from his coma a week later his first words were, “Am I dead yet?”

Incredibly, no. Perhaps it was Mr. Elwood Smith, the venerable proprietor of Smith’s Restaurant at Broad and Olney, who summed up Gooney McFarland best: “Some guys you got to beat into the grave with a stick.”

(Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for listings of links to other "Tales From the O-Zone". You might also enjoy our serialization of Railroad Train to Heaven, the complete and unexpurgated memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, Olney's beloved "Rhyming Brakeman".)

And now, performing Gooney McFarland's favorite song, The Honeycombs, featuring the fabulously coiffed Honey Lantree on the drums:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 77: & Tommy, too

Previously in this lauded (“does for literature what Babe Ruth did for baseball” -- Harold Bloom) memoir our spiritual astronaut Arnold Schnabel suffered a rather intense fit of nicotine withdrawal but got a grip on himself and decided to head at once for an appointment with that other giant, the film-maker and novelist Larry Winchester.

Scene: the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey.

Time: 10:28 AM, The first Saturday of August, 1963...

When I came to Jackson Street I felt a longing in my heart. Right up the block was the pretty little jewelry shop in which Elektra worked with her charming Bohemian friends. I paused at the crossing, letting the sundazed vacationers walk all around me. How nice it would be to go visit her there, where she would be working either behind the counter or in that cool back room, twisting her metals and setting her soothing cool Cape May diamonds.
I wouldn’t mind smoking a reefer now in that pleasant back room smelling of warm solder. And perhaps Elektra and I could —
But duty called. I crossed Jackson, headed down to Perry Street and then up Perry to North. When I came abreast of my aunts’ house I halted again. Should I go in and get my cigarettes?
“I would if I were you."
It was him again. Or Him, as the case may be, leaning against a streetlight pole and smoking a cigarette in the hot sun.
“I really am trying to quit,” I said.
“I know that. I’d quit too if I were human.”
He was dressed very casually, in unpressed khaki trousers, a faded blue t-shirt, sandals. He needed a shave.
“I can probably bum a couple from Larry,” I said.
“What if he only smokes cigars?”
“Tell ya what, take a couple of mine,” he said.
He reached into his pocket and took out an open pack of Pall Malls. He gave them a shake and held them out to me, one cigarette protruding.
I took the cigarette.
He gave the pack another slight shake and two more Pall Malls poked out of the pack.
“Let’s be real, Arnold. You’re gonna need more than one to get you through the afternoon.”
“No,” I said. “I’ll just take this one for after lunch. If I take two the second one will only drive me crazy thinking about it.”
“That makes absolutely no sense,” he said, “but, hey, suit yourself.”
I stuck the cigarette behind my ear.
“Mind if I walk with you?” he said.
“I’d prefer you didn’t.”
“Lighten up, Arnold.”
“All right,” I sighed. And we walked off down the street together.
“So how’d it go with Father Reilly?” he asked.
“You don’t know?”
“Arnold, I may be the Son of God, but even I have my limitations.”
“That’s not what I was taught.”
“Church doctrine has changed continuously ever since they pulled me down from that cross a couple of thousand years ago, Arnold. It’s changed constantly and it will continue to change and it will also be, until the end of time, more or less full of baloney.”
“If you say so.”
“I say so. So how’d it go with Reilly?”
“I think I bugged him.”
“I’m sure you did. He give you absolution?”
“Yeah,” I said, “but he was a little grudging about it.”
“He’s just doing his job.”
“I know. but I’ll tell ya, Arnold, it’s not easy getting good priests these days.” We walked a few more paces and then he added, “But then it never has been easy.”
“Oh,” I said, “while I have you here. A question.”
“Fire away, my friend.”
“Something Father Reilly and I were talking about, regarding these visits I have from you –”
“Please, go on.”
“Am I — and I know this sounds egotistic, but I’m just curious —”
“Am I a saint?”
He smiled.
“That’s entirely up to you, Arnold.”
“But —”
“Okay, here we are, pal.”
We were at the sidewalk gate to Mrs. Biddle’s house on Windsor Avenue.
“You’re not coming in, are you?” I asked him.
“No.” He smiled again. “Why? Do you want me to?”
I looked at him, then gave him a little wave and opened the gate.
I went up the flagstone path to the porch and up the steps.
At the front door I looked back down the path. He was gone.
I touched my ear. The cigarette was there. Could this be adduced as proof of a divine visitation? I took the cigarette and looked at it. Just an ordinary Pall Mall. It wouldn’t even get me through the front door of the Vatican. I stuck it back behind my ear and pressed the doorbell button.
After half a minute the old fellow whom I had seen in the dining room last night — the one who looked like Edward Everett Horton — opened the inner door and looked at me through the screen door.
“Oh! Mr. Schnabel! You’re here bright and early.” He pushed open the screen door. “Do come in. I’ll fetch Mrs. Biddle.”
“No, please don’t bother her,” I said, coming in. “I’m having tea with her later today, but I’m here now to meet Mr. Winchester.”
“Larry! Lovely fellow.”
The old guy was wearing an off-white suit, with white buck shoes and a blue-and-red paisley tie. He was smoking a strong fragrant cigarette, and his skin looked like old paper. His eyes seemed ancient, like pale amethysts, but his hair was a shiny dark brown. I think it might have been dyed. He led me from the foyer into the living room.
The room was cool, both sunlit and soothingly dark at the same time. No one else was around.
“Larry’s out back I think. Shall I tell him you’re here?”
“Don’t bother,” I said. “I’ll just go back there myself if I may.”
“Of course. I’m Tommy by the way, how rude of me.”
He extended a slender and blue-veined hand.
“Hi, Tommy,” I said.
“I’m a friend of Mrs. Biddle’s.”
“Pleased to meet you.”
“Arnold — may I call you Arnold?”
“Sure,” I said.
“May I say you don’t look very well.”
“I don’t feel very well,” I said.
“You look like you’ve been ridden quite hard and put up wet.”
“Uh, yeah.”
“Too much partaken last night?”
“A little,” I said. “But the real problem is I’ve decided to give up smoking.”
“Then what’s that cigarette doing behind your ear?”
“I told myself I wouldn’t smoke it till after lunch.”
“Good God, smoke it, man.”
“I’d rather wait.”
He took a drag of his own cigarette, seeming to appraise me through the smoke.
“Wait here,” he said. “Sit down. I’m going to get you something that will help.”
He went away, the soles of his shoes seeming barely to touch the floor.
I sat down on the couch. On the end table was an ashtray with four or five butts in it, and a large bowl containing an inch or so of tan liquid. There was a book lying open face-down on the coffee table. Had Tommy just been reading it?
I picked up the book. It was an enormous volume, Remembrance of Things Past, Volume One. By that Marcel Proust guy. Tommy seemed to be about four-fifths of the way through it, which a cursory perusal convinced me was about four-fifths further than I would ever get. I put the book back down the way I had found it.
Tommy came back into the room, carrying a very tall glass of something dark and icy on an engraved metal tray. He sat down weightlessly next to me and put the tray on the coffee table.
He picked up the beaded glass and proffered it to me.
“Put yourself outside of that,” he said. “I guarantee you’ll feel better.”
“Thanks,” I said.
I took the glass and drank a little. It was iced tea of some sort, but with a peculiar bitter and thick taste to it.
“Drink some more,” he said.
I took a good gulp this time and felt it go down, seeming to wash a metropolitan sewage-drain full of nastiness into my capillaries and out through the pores of my skin. I had started to sweat again during my walk over here, but now it felt as if all the accumulated toxins and tars of twenty years were oozing out of me and seeping down into the brocaded wool of the couch.
“Go on,” he said.
I did so, and with each gulp I felt fresh life coursing through me, fresh life and pleasure and wisdom.
“Go ahead, finish it now, Arnold.”
I did, and put the empty glass back down on the tray.
“Feel better?” he asked.
“Yes. Thank you very much,” I said. Almost at once the sweating stopped. “What was in that?”
“Just strong black Assam tea, with honey, ginger and lemon juice. And ginseng root. And just the tiniest modicum of laudanum.”
“Tincture of opium.”
I picked up the glass and rattled the cubes, took one last sip of what was left.
“Want some more?” he asked.
“Isn’t this addictive?”
“Well, yes.”
“I’d better not then. No point replacing one habit with another one.”
“No, I suppose not.”
He took a gold cigarette case from his jacket pocket. I hadn’t noticed that his previous cigarette had disappeared. He took one out, put it in his mouth, lighted himself up with a gold lighter from his other jacket pocket, exhaled dreamily.
I passed the ashtray over to in front of him, and he nodded.
“Oh, hope you don’t mind,” he said. “If I smoke.”
“Not at all.”
“I doubt I’ll ever quit.”
I sat there. I thought that perhaps he was was going to say more, but all he did was stare into space, or into his memories. After a while he sighed and tapped his ash into the tray.
In my life I’ve found that if you are left alone with any human being for more than two minutes they start telling you their entire life story in excruciating detail. But apparently Tommy wasn’t like most people. Who was he? Why was he here?
I’m afraid I was rather blatantly staring at him. He turned his head slightly my way, and smiled.
“Oh, but you wanted to see Larry.”
“Oh, right,” I said.
“It’s probably easier just to go out the front again and circle round the house. You’ll see him back there.”
“Okay,” I said. I stood up. I felt an inch or two taller than normal.
“I’ll see you out,” he said.
He floated up and we walked out of the room, back to the foyer and to the door.
I turned and extended my hand.
“Thanks for the iced tea, Tommy.”
His wizened bird-boned hand wafted into mine.
“Just come back in if you want more,” he said. “I have plenty. And I can always make more of the tea.”
“Okay, thanks,” I said, and I went out the door.
I felt as if my body were floating inside of me.

(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. And please turn to the right hand side of this page for a scrupulously updated list of links to all extant episodes of Arnold Shnabel’s James Frey Award-winning Railroad Train to Heaven™, a Dick Powell Theatre Production.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 71: auf wiedersehen, Hans und Marlene

Larry Winchester, the acclaimed (“makes Hemingway look effete” -- Harold Bloom) author of this Costco Award-winning masterpiece, now switches back once again to the inimitable voice of that suave adventurer Dick Ridpath:

The weird thing about the insides of these saucers -- and, yes, it’s true, they really are shaped kind of like upside-down saucers, or like frisbees rather -- well, I should say one of the many weird things about these saucers is that they’re a hell of a lot bigger on the inside than they seem to be on the outside. Don’t ask me how this is.

So, we go up this ramp, following the sailor boy -- never did catch his real name (if they have real names), me, then Daphne, then, hustling up behind us, Harvey. He had changed his mind about coming, and this felt right to me somehow.

So we’re in this small sort of anteroom, bathed in this soft purple light, and the sailor presses a couple of buttons on the wall and the ramp slides back up into the ship and the port door slides shut, and then he presses another button and this door in front of us starts sliding slowly up into the ceiling, just like in a science fiction movie; and I noticed this odd smell I remembered from somewhere before, kind of like an old attic filled with moldy old Saturday Evening Posts, but there was a new smell, like scorched mercury, and a smell of gunshot and then -- uh-oh --

There’s Hans and Marlene crouched in front of us in the hallway on the other side of this doorway, covering us with automatic pistols.

Hans of course goes “Halt!”

And there off to the the side we see these two little outer space guys, lying there stone dead in this purplish illumination which seemed to glow from the curving walls themselves. The little fellows were wearing dungaree overalls, and they had holes through their heads. You could see this phosphorescent green blood pooled all around their heads, and bits of greenish-grey glowing brain matter splattered across the deck.

Fucking Hans and Marlene.

Well, the little sailor guy freaks totally out. He just leaps through the air at Hans making this eerie sort of high-pitched peeping sound, and as he’s leaping Hans is shooting his pistol at him and so is Marlene and I yank out my Browning and as I rack the slide I see Marlene swinging over at me now just as the sailor’s bullet-riddled body hits the deck in between her and Hans, and I cock the hammer and fire just as she fires and she gets me below the right shoulder but I hit her in the side and she falls back on her ass and I do too and I hear more shots and I’ve dropped my gun and it’s skidded away and bullets are ricocheting all over the damn walls and I’m trying to reach my gun but it’s like one of those dreams where you’re trying to do something but you just can’t do it. And then I almost reach the gun and someone shoves it away with his foot, and I look up and it’s Hans and he’s pointing his pistol at my face, and everything is quiet now.

I sit up. I look around and Daphne’s just standing there to my left, goggle-eyed, white in the face. The sailor guy’s lying on the deck in his own puddle of green blood. Poor Harvey’s lying there near Daphne in a pool of red blood, his pistol on the deck a few feet away from him. But, as I later learned, Harvey had gotten Marlene all right, she was sprawled out there in the hall with a hole in her forehead and her brains and blood all mingled with that of the two little guys in overalls.

“Mrs. Ridpath,” says Hans, and he swings his gun over at her, “would you step this way, please.”

Daphne comes over and Hans goes, “Now, please to sit down next to Commander Ridpath where I can keep the eye on the both of you.”

“But it’s all bloody down there,” says Daphne. “I’m not going to sit in all that blood.”

Hans sighs.

“But it is your husband’s blood.”

“I don’t care whose blood it is, I’m not sitting in it.”

You could tell Hans wasn’t used to dealing with someone of Daphne’s calibre.

“Please then, to -- to -- duck? -- how you say?”

The bastard glances at me for help.

“He wants you to crouch down,” I said, teeth gritted needless to add.

“Yes, to crouch down,” he says.

“Well, all right,” says Daphne, and she kind of delicately hunkers down near me, but not so near that her shoes are in this ever-growing pool of blood spreading out all around me.

“Right, then,” says Hans. “Now. Mr. Ridpath, please do not force me to kill your lovely and fastidious wife in some particularly slow and painful fashion.”

Yeah, sure. As if either of us was going to walk out of there if this creep had any say in the matter.

“All you need do is answer some few questions for me,” he said.

So predictable this guy.

“Can I get a cigarette, Hans?”

“Oh, certainly, as you Americans say, smoke them if you have them.”


Here’s the thing. I had grabbed that little .38 Airweight to give to Daphne but I had forgotten to give it to her. It was still in the left side pocket of my peacoat. Now on the one hand I knew there was no way I was going to get it out and plug this asshole before he shot me again at least once, but on the other hand maybe I could get him, too. And then at least Daphne might get away. I wasn’t trying to be a hero especially. It was just I knew we were both dead meat anyway if I didn’t try some damn thing.

If only there were some way to distract this motherfucker for one second.

I patted my inside shirt pocket as if I weren’t sure where my cigarettes were. He puts the muzzle of his nine-millimetre practically right up against my forehead.

I pull out the little transistor radio with the bullet hole through it.

“What is that?”

“It’s a radio, Hans. You want it?”

Now would be a good time for it to start speaking that incomprehensible space language, but no dice.

“Put it on the floor, please, Mr. Ridpath.”

I did what he said to do.

“Now take out your cigarettes before I lose my patience and shoot your wife in the knee.”

“Stay cool, Hans.”

Actually my cigarette case was in my inside coat pocket. But I slowly dipped my hand into the left pocket, the one where the gun was, glancing at Daphne as I did so. She nodded ever so slightly.

Sometimes time slows down, or bends, or stops, or moves at the speed of light. Other times time explodes, and this is what happened now. Daphne had on this big goofy black plastic newsboy’s cap from Mary Quant’s on Carnaby Street. It had these little tiny flashing light bulbs all over it, the batteries were inserted at the base of the bill, and you turned the lights on with a little button on one side. So what she did now was she touched the button and of course all the little multi-colored lights came on, twinkling off and on, and Hans looks at it like “What the fuck!” and I fire the Airweight right through the cloth of my coat, and I get Hans in the belly but he fires almost at the same time, getting me in the left lung, and I fall back, the gun flying out of my hand, and I’m waiting for the next shot, he’s standing over me, one hand on his belly with blood burbling through his fingers, looking very pissed off, and he’s about to give me the coup de grâce when bang, a burst of scarlet blood blossoms out from the side of his head and he takes one step forward and then falls on top of me like the sack of shit he was.

I push him off and I look over and there’s Daphne on her knees by Harvey with his smoking pistol in her hand, that wacky hat now on the floor over there still just blinking away.

I’ve said it a thousand times but this woman is worth her weight in gold.

The only problem being this second hole in me now making this really disconcerting sucking noise, and blood just gushing out of me.

(Go here for our next sanguinary chapter. And please turn to the right hand side of this page for a nearly complete listing of links to all extant episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, a Danny Thomas Production.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 76: smoked

When last we saw Arnold Schnabel he had just brightened up the day of one Father James Reilly by allowing this good priest the privilege of hearing his confession. Freshly shrived and at least for the moment aglow once again with sanctifying grace, Arnold marches out into the sunlight of Cape May, New Jersey on an August morning in the year of our Lord 1963.

(Go here to read our previous episode; click here to return to Chapter One.)

Another beautiful day lay glittering and pulsing before me as I paused at the top of the church steps; happy or presumably happy vacationers walked up and down the sidewalks of Washington Street, going to the beach or wandering into and out of the shops, and even though I no longer really believed in Catholicism I still felt that old feeling of accomplishment on leaving confession, that feeling of starting anew, of attempting to get through at least the next hour before falling into a state of black sin all over again.
Contentedly I patted my pockets for my cigarettes.
Then I remembered that I had decided to try to start quitting today, that I had told myself I wouldn’t have another cigarette till after lunch, and that, even more horrifying, in my insanity of good intentions I hadn’t brought my cigarettes with me.
At once a tidal wave of nausea rose up from my stomach into my throat. I choked it back down and then I felt an overweight mouse inside my skull chewing greedily at my brain cells.
My spit tasted like used motor oil. I swallowed it down and at once was racked with another brutal surge of nausea.
I grabbed the cast iron rail and staggered down the steps, barely keeping in what had so recently been a quite enjoyable breakfast of scrapple and eggs, home-fries and breaded fried tomatoes washed down with my usual copious cups of strong black Chock Full o’ Nuts coffee. My legs felt as if they were made of Silly Putty, and my Bermuda shorts and polo shirt had become soaked with icy sweat in a matter of seconds.
I found myself sitting on a wooden bench on the corner by the church, bent over, staring down at the shimmering sidewalk. Many wonderful cigarette butts lay like precious little tubes of ecstasy upon the concrete, jetsam of another beer-drenched summer Friday night at the shore. I saw one fat unfiltered butt, only half smoked at best, perhaps even my own brand, Pall Mall, although my eyes were so clouded I could not be sure. I reached down, almost vomiting again, and picked it up. Breathing heavily, licking my parched lips with my swollen leathery tongue, with trembling fingers I smoothed out the butt. It would do. It would do just fine, thank you very much. Just two or three drags, that sharp strong tarry smoke filling my mendicant ravaged lungs, and I would be whole again, human again, or at least as human as I could reasonably expect to be.
I patted my pockets again. But no, no, of course not, I had had to be a tough guy. I had left my lighter at home with my cigarettes.
The aforementioned vacationers marched to and fro before me, dressed in their hideous seaside attire of flaming dacrons and polyesters, strutting men with murderous scowls and frightened eyes, women with stiff sprayed hair like the headdresses of pagan priestesses, and screaming feral children veering dangerously off the curb, apparently intent on throwing themselves underneath the burning tires of an endless stream of enormous dirty belching automobiles packed with yet more family groups of Nazis, carnival hucksters, thieves, murderers, and maniacs.
All I had to do was bum a light.
Half the people going by me were smoking. Happily, contentedly smoking in the shining hot sunlight, the pale smoke swirling up and disappearing into the bright blue indifferent sky, into that great bottomless maw of a universe without meaning.
But then I sat up a little straighter and I thought: is it really true I can’t go more than two hours without a cigarette? That I would stoop so low as to fish a butt from the sidewalk?
Then of course I remembered some other occasions when I had done just that, usually when stumbling home drunk, the only other passersby my fellow wretched inebriates wandering the haunted night-time streets like some exiled race of the damned.
I took a deep breath, and coughed only a little bit. My mouth had gone bone dry over the past few minutes, but now I could actually feel a drop of moisture in there, and it did not even taste of death and ashes.
The corpulent mouse was still ensconced in my head, but he had stopped chewing. I supposed he was full, and taking a post-prandial nap.
My breakfast had receded from my chest to a defensive position just below my solar plexus, nervously awaiting instructions from HQ.
I looked at the butt. It was an Old Gold, not my brand. I flicked it away.
I took another deep breath, and stood up. The world rocked and moaned but did not fly apart or implode.
I felt my soaked shirt drying on my shoulders and back.
I launched myself forth into the stream of ambulatory humanity, my legs once again feeling if not quite like legs then at least not like something you would find sticking out of a beached octopus or squid, and the pavement unfolded obediently under the soles of my Keds, with only the occasional slight ripple or tilt.
I thought it best to head straightaway for Mrs. Biddle’s house and my appointment with Larry Winchester.

(Click here for our next earth-shaking chapter. Please check out the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all extant episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, an Irwin Allen Production.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 70: embarkation

In our previous episode of this Tony Rome Award-winning masterwork, a small grey fellow dressed in a sailor suit appeared at the height of a peyote ceremony and invited Dick, Daphne and Harvey to come with him. Harvey declined...

September, 1969, southeastern New Mexico, just on the other side of the borderline to nowhere...

Dick and Daphne had put on their coats and gone with the sailor out the door. They had left the door open a little bit and Harvey, sitting on the floor, could lean over and see them walking toward the green thing and a ramp that ran up into a bright purple opening in the thing’s sloping side.

His cigarette ash dropped onto his jeans and he brushed it off.

Ah, shit, he thought, and he grabbed his hat and his field jacket and got up.

“Where are you going, Harvey?” asked Enid.

He put on his hat and shrugged himself into the jacket, its pockets heavy with the revolver and the two packed speedloaders.

“With them,” he said.

“Oh, Harvey, don’t.”

“Fuckin’ ‘ell,” said Derek. You got more bottle ‘n I ‘ave, mate.”

Paco had returned to watching On the Waterfront.

“Paco,” said Enid. “Tell him no.”

“Boy wants to go with Peyotito,” said Paco. He’ll come back. Maybe.”


Paco shrugged.

“Boy wants to be a man. He gotta take a chance. Gotta make journey. Vision quest.”

Harvey stopped in the doorway and turned to Enid.

“Later, Miss Enid.”

And he went out.

"Fuckin’ ‘ell,” said Derek. Fuckin’ bloody ‘ell.”

They were already going up the ramp and Harvey double-timed on over there. He watched the little sailor and then Dick in his pea coat and Daphne in her shiny red trench coat disappear into the purple light of the thing’s inside.

What the fuck.

He tossed away his cigarette and went on up.


Enid sat on the floor feeling the weight of a billion mad worlds on her shoulders.

Harvey had closed the door behind him but you could still see that emerald glow through the front windows. The only sound from the outside was the furious howling of a coyote, the wistful barking of a dog, the disturbingly humanoid wailing of a bobcat.

Paco got up and turned the TV’s sound on.

Marlon Brando said to Eva Marie Saint:

“There’s too many guys around here with only one thing on their mind.”

Paco sat back down and Derek took up his guitar again and strummed an E-minor chord.

Christ, thought Enid, I’m going. With them.

She got up, the inside of her head swaying around inside her skull.

“Oy,” said Derek.

“I’m going,” said Enid. “With them. And please don’t say ‘bloody fucking hell’ again.”

Derek stared up at her.

“Well, I think I’ll stay with the chief, love. Watch the telly.”

“All right.”

Paco glanced up at her and then turned back to the TV.

The saucer sat there in the dirt, solid and green and glowing. It looked about sixty feet in diameter and it sloped up to a height of maybe twenty feet. Enid couldn’t see an opening into it. She walked slowly all the way around it. Then she reached over and touched the surface of the thing. It was warm and it felt like birch bark. It smelled like a toy electric railroad set. She saw no sign of a doorway or hatch opening.

“Hello?” she called.

No one answered.


(Kindly go here for our next mind-bending chapter. And please refer to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other extant episodes of a Town Called Disdain by Larry Winchester, the man whom Harold Bloom called “the only American writer equal to Arnold Schnabel”.)

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Donovan Phillips Leitch:

Saturday, May 17, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven,” Part 75: I confess

(Go here for our previous chapter.)

In the summer of 1963, Arnold Schnabel, a forty-two year-old bachelor brakeman and poet from the Olney section of Philadelphia, after suffering a mental breakdown the previous winter, and on a mandatory leave-of-absence from the Reading Railroad, comes with his mother to convalesce in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey.

This is his story, in his own inimitable words. Harold Bloom has called it “a noble, sprawling monument”. Noble? Perhaps. Sprawling? Absolutely.

Read it and weep:

Luckily I got to the church shortly after confessions started at ten, and hardly anyone was there.
For a moment I considered not going to Father Reilly. It’s true he was the most lenient and broad-minded priest here, but on the other hand, did he really deserve to have to deal with my nonsense two weeks in a row?
But, on another other hand, perhaps he, having been exposed to my madness in full flower last Saturday, would perforce be better able than one of his unblooded colleagues to give me spiritual guidance.
What the heck, I decided, this is what he gets paid for.
So I marched right up to his confessional and went in.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, it has been one week since my —”
“Oh, no, it’s you.”
“Yes, Father.”
He sighed.
“Should I go on, Father?”
He sighed again.
“I can leave,” I offered. “I really don’t mind. I can go to Father Schwartz, or —”
“No, no,” he said. “Stay.”
I settled down. I realized I wanted a cigarette. I had denied myself my usual luxurious post-breakfast smoke. Not to mention my briskly bracing post-shower smoke. Or my walk-to-church smoke, savoring that last good drag before flicking it into the always butt-littered gutter across the sidewalk from the church steps.
“Did you hear me?” his voice said, from the other side of that black screen.
“Pardon me?”
“I asked you if you would tell me your first name.”
“Oh, sorry, Father —”
“You certainly don’t have to.”
“Oh, I don’t mind. It’s Arnold. Arnold Schna-”
“Just your first name.”
“Okay,” I said. “It’s Arnold.”
“Arnold,” he said. “Good. My name’s Jim.”
“I know. Father Reilly. Hi, Father.”
“Call me Jim.”
“Okay. Father Jim.”
“Just Jim.”
“Just Jim?”
“Just Jim. I’m just a man. Just like you, Arnold.”
I doubted this very much. But in order to move things along I ceded the point. I did have an appointment with Larry Winchester after all. So:
“Okay, Jim,” I said.
“I remember you well from last week, Arnold. I felt bad about — about dismissing you so abruptly.”
“I didn’t mind, Father.”
As indeed I had not. I’m always happy to be dismissed, abruptly or not, it’s all the same to me, as long as I get to leave.
“Yes, but still. I feel I was shirking my duty. I apologize.”
“Okay.” I shrugged, but of course he couldn’t see that. “Should I start my confession now?”
“Okay. Go ahead.”
“Well, first off, I’m afraid I had sexual intercourse again. Outside the sacrament of marriage, that is.”
“Oh. Uh, more than once?”
“Uh, yeah, I’m afraid so. It was, what? Three times? Four? Wait. Let me see —”
“Don’t worry about the number, Arnold.”
“Okay, and also we did some other things that weren’t exactly intercourse I guess, but —”
“You touched each other impurely.”
“Uh, yeah, you could say that, you see I —”
“That’s okay. I don’t need all the details.”
“Oh, good.”
“So, was this all with the same woman, Arnold?”
“Yeah. And actually that’s another thing I wanted to ask you about, Father, because she’s Jewish, and, well, not a practicing Jew, but, anyway, she doesn’t think sexual intercourse outside of marriage is a sin.”
“Uh-huh —”
“So I’m wondering if that makes it less of a sin for me. Since I’m not making another person commit a mortal sin.”
“Arnold, according to Church doctrine it’s a mortal sin either way. And it’s a mortal sin for her even if she doesn’t think it is.”
“Well that doesn’t seem fair. I mean, what about some — I don’t know — headhunters in the Amazon — who never knew about Christianity? It’s a sin for them too?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“But they can’t even get properly married in the first place because they don’t have any priests to marry them.”
“Oh. I see your point.”
“I mean —”
“But forget about the headhunters, Arnold. The fact is, Arnold, that you, Arnold, are in a state of mortal sin.”
“Okay. So, uh, I guess I didn’t have too many other sins this week, no mortal ones anyway. Oh, I guess I masturbated a few times. That’s mortal,” I said. “Which is weird.”
“What’s weird, Arnold?”
“That you can get sent to hell for masturbating and it’s the same punishment for extra-marital intercourse.”
“Well, that’s the way it is.”
“Yeah. Okay. Uh, I got drunk two or three times.”
“Okay. Anything else?”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot, the sin of doubt. I have to tell you, for this whole past week or more I’ve really had my doubts about religion. So, yeah, a lot of doubt. But what do I know?”
“Did you —”
“Last week you said Jesus had appeared to you.”
“Oh, right.”
“Has he, have you, did you —”
“Yeah, I’m afraid so. He’s appeared to me, uh, several times.”
“And is he still telling you to go ahead and have extra-marital intercourse?”
“Well — uh — he’s — uh —”
“Don’t you think this Jesus could just be a figment of your imagination, Arnold?”
“Oh, yeah, definitely, but —”
“I mean who’s to say Bernadette of Lourdes wasn’t just seeing things? Or those kids at Fátima?”
“Those were certified miracles, Arnold.”
“Okay, but what if my Jesus sightings got certified? I mean, who’s to say?”
He didn’t say anything.
“Like what if I brought proof of a miracle.”
“What kind of proof?”
I was thinking of that cigarette from 1890s France. But that miracle didn’t have anything to do with Jesus. Or did it?
“Answer me this, Arnold. Has anyone else seen this Jesus of yours?”
“No. But, like, all these other saints that Jesus or Mary appeared to — Jesus or Mary always only appeared just to the saints, right? Not to everybody, but. Just. To the saints. That’s why the saints are saints. Because they’re the only ones who can see Jesus. Or Mary. Or whomever. Right?”
“So you think you’re a saint.”
“Hey, I don’t know. That’s not for me to say, Father.”
“Listen. You’re not a saint, Arnold.”
“Well, okay, if you say so.”
“But — what do I know, right?”
“Hey, that’s your opinion. You’re entitled to it, Father.”
“So —” I said.
“So,” he said.
Somebody started knocking on the wall of the booth on the other side of Father Reilly.
A muffled voice said, “Hey, Father Reilly, what’s goin’ on?”
“Wait your turn!” yelled Father Reilly.
“Sorry, Father.”
“Kneel there and examine your conscience and I’ll be with you when I’m ready.”
“Sorry,” said the voice.
“Now,” said Father Reilly, to me, in his low, “confessional” voice, “where were we?”
“Well —” I did have that appointment with Larry, and I hate to keep people waiting — “I guess that’s about it, Father. I mean Jim. I mean, that’s about it for my sins.”
“Okay. Are you going to try not to have sexual intercourse with this woman again, Arnold? This — Jewish girl?”
“Um, I don’t know, Father. I really doubt that I’ll try not to.”
“I can’t give you absolution unless you at the very least intend to try.”
“Well, what about all those other weeks I came in and confessed to the sin of self-abuse? We both knew I was going to do it again, and you always gave me absolution for that.”
“That’s different.”
“How’s it different? They’re both mortal sins.”
There was silence. I could hear Father Reilly breathing. I almost fancied I could hear that other poor guy in the other booth breathing, or sighing.
“Is she pretty, this girl?” Father Jim asked, in a low voice.
“Uh, yes, Father. Very. Dark hair. Deep dark eyes. Smooth skin. And she smells — she smells like —” I tried to remember, but she had various smells, all of them good. “She smells like pound cake sometimes. Like, right from the oven —”
“Okay, look, I absolve you,” he said abruptly. “Ego te absolvo ab omnibus censuris, et peccatis, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.
“Oh. Thanks, Father.”
“Three Hail Marys, three Our Fathers.”
“Now go. Go now. Go and sin.”
“Go and sin?”
“As I’m sure you will.”
He slid the little shutter shut.
I got up and went out. Poor guy. And he still had Miss Evans to deal with.
I grabbed a pew, said my penance, crossed myself, and got out of there.

(Go here for our next deeply spiritual chapter. And kindly refer to the right hand side of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all extant episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, a Selmur Production. Nihil Obstat: Bishop John J. "Big Jack" Graham.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 69: invitation

Larry Winchester (“America’s answer to Tolstoy” -- Harold Bloom) now cuts away from Dick Ridpath and his apparent achievement of samãdhi (hat-tip to Kathleen Maher) and back to the nefarious Grupler and Marlene, last seen dispatching four US Government agents on a hill overlooking a small Native American reservation just several miles of dangerous road outside of a town called Disdain...

Grupler and Marlene, crouching behind a resiny-smelling creosote bush at the foot of the hill, had watched the big green luminous beret-shaped thing land and then the door sliding open and the ramp sliding down and the little sailor gliding lightly down the ramp and going over to the Quonset hut. He had entered the hut without bothering to knock, and a minute or so later the door seemed to close of its own volition behind him.

Somewhere a coyote howled, a dog barked shyly, a bobcat cried like a human infant with colic. The cool dry breeze smelled of electricity.

“So,” whispered Grupler. “The US Navy has a part in this as well.”

“That was the strangest-looking sailor I have ever seen,” whispered Marlene.

“Probably the victim of nuclear experimentation,” said Grupler.

“No matter,” said Marlene.

They looked at the beautiful glowing green thing in the yard, surrounded by junked automobiles and mechanical parts, baby carriages, 1930s iceboxes, and an old Dr Pepper vending machine lying on its side, this vision of industrial detritus made somehow beautiful and serene and whole by the soft emerald glow emanating from the thing.

“Let’s take that sucker,” said Marlene in English.

“Right on, baby,” said Hans, and they cocked the hammers of their pistols simultaneously.

“Bang bang,” said Hans, his eyes full of the green light.

“Shoot shoot,” said Marlene.


Dick braced himself to land with a thud if not a splat -- he had after all just been whooshing in, just sailing in at way, oh, way beyond the speed of light -- but then after all here he still stood in Paco’s hut, shaking hands with this expressionless little sailorman.

“Dick, I think you can stop shaking his hand now,” said Daphne.

“Oh.” He withdrew his hand. It felt like someone else’s hand. “Sorry, fella,” he said.

“Don’t mention it,” said the little being, through the transistor.

Dick glanced around at the others, who were all looking alternately at him and at the creature.

“Do, uh, do you want us to come with you?” asked Dick.

“That’s why I’m here, fella,” said the little guy.

Daphne had picked up the talking transistor radio.

“Go where?” she asked, speaking directly at the radio.

“Ha ha,” said the radio.


Dick held out his hand for the transistor, and she handed it to him.

“I believe he’s got a craft of some sort.” Dick sighed. “Out there.”

“You mean like a flying saucer?” she asked.

“Well, yes, actually.”

Dick slipped the little radio into his shirt pocket.

“Oh my God, we have to go up in it, Dick! I’ve always wanted to go up in one.”

“Now wait a bleedin’ minute,” said Derek.

“Yeah,” said Harvey. “Let’s just hold the fuck on.”

“We have to go,” said Daphne.

“Oh my fucking God,” said Enid, lighting a cigarette.

Paco said nothing. He had never before seen Peyotito behave in such a fashion. Well, this is what you might expect if you introduced white people to Peyotito.

“Mister,” said Daphne. “Mister sailor?”

“Yes, sweety,” said the sailor.

“Dick and I would just love to go up in your saucer.”

“Fabulous,” said the little guy.

Oh, boy, thought Dick. Here we go again.

“And the young fella, too,” said the sailor. “We can swing by the ranch and pick Hope up on the way.”

“Hope?” said Dick.

“Yeah,” said the sailor. “By the way, how come she’s not here?”

“Well,” said Dick, “we’re hardly going to take an emotionally-disturbed seventeen-year-old to a peyote ceremony.”

“Why not? That girl was born tripping.”

“Well --”

“Look,” said the little guy, “it’s really no problem. Like I said, we’ll swoop by the ranch, hover by her window, I slide through. Boom --”

“Excuse me, sir?” Daphne raised her finger. “Um, why are we picking Hope up?”

“Frank said to bring her too. I just do what I’m told.”

“Frank,” said Daphne. “And who is Frank?”

“Frank’s the boss. And he said to bring you and Mr. Ridpath and Hope and Harvey. I’m just following orders --”

“Now wait just a minute,” said Harvey.

“Sure, fella.”

The little guy stood there, staring at Harvey, waiting.

“Okay, look,” said Harvey. “I ain’t goin’.”

“But it’s your karma, fella.”

“Fuck that,” said Harvey. “No way. No fucking way in the world.

The little sailor just stood there.


(Please click here to go to our next mind-bending chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an allegedly up-to-date listing of links to any and all other episodes of Larry Winchester’s Miller High Life Award-winning A Town Called Disdain™, all contents inspected and passed by the Commissariat of Homeland Insecurity.)

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 74: the end of the longest day and the beginning of a possibly even longer day...

Return with us now to that sultry August night in 1963, to the seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey, and to the inimitable memoirs of that saint, that poet, that madman, Arnold Schnabel...

Suffice it to say we bade each other a fond goodnight, and I went on my way. Elektra didn’t ask me to stay the night, although I was feeling so wild these days I think I might actually have done so had she asked.
But still I must admit I preferred just going home to my little attic room. This had been by far the longest day of my life, and I was ready for some quiet solitude. Speaking of which I decided to take an indirect route home; if the battle royal was still in progress and had spread farther down Washington Street I had no desire to get involved. Let them fight on without me until they dropped one by one. Henceforth Arnold Schnabel would be the Switzerland of human beings. So I walked down to the beach and turned right on Beach Drive. The ocean crashed obliviously and darkly and, tired as I was, for two cents I would have stripped down on the other side of Frank’s Playland and gone in for a swim. But I remembered the promise I had made to Elektra, no more solitary night-time swims, and I couldn’t bring myself to go against my word to her.
As I walked past Sid’s Tavern I noticed it was still open and thriving, its front doors open and beckoning, the lights inside twinkling on a happy bar full of people, the jukebox playing a song about let’s dance, let’s dance, let’s do the twist, the stomp, the mashed potato, too.
Again I was tempted. The siren call of oblivion, how often had I obeyed its summons, marching like a zombie into how many low dives? But I walked on and turned up at Perry Street, homeward.

After climbing the side stairs as quietly as I could I stopped on the third floor and stood by Miss Evans’s door. If she was still out at the bars then that probably meant she would be all the more likely to stage an all-out assault on my room at three in the morning. If she were in and please God already asleep then maybe I wouldn’t have to nail my door shut with railroad ties.
Fortunately I heard deep female snoring. Good.
I went up to my room, but you may be sure, dear reader, that I did bolt my door, although after thinking it over a minute I decided not to prop a wooden chair against the knob.
I got undressed and into bed and picked up The Waste Land, trying to find where I left off, not that it seemed to matter a whole lot. At the end of one passage was this:   
'You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!'   
— the last two phrases of which Miss Evans had quoted when she inscribed her book to me.

I read the footnote and saw that T.S. Eliot was quoting Charles Baudelaire; yet another famous poet I suppose I’ll have to read some day. So Miss Evans might have been quoting Baudelaire directly. Or she could have been quoting Eliot quoting Baudelaire. Or both. This too did not matter; what mattered was that she was a nutcase. Contrary to what might seem logical, nut cases do not necessarily like to associate with other nut cases. I suppose I should only speak for myself, but I find my own insanity to be more than sufficient unto the day. I don’t need any help.
I put The Waste Land aside for some other time and picked up Miss Evans’s novel, Ye Cannot Quench. At least this I was able to understand. In the sense that I knew what was going on. On the other hand, after finding my place and reading about three lines I realized that although I could follow what the characters were doing I couldn’t really understand the characters themselves because they behaved and talked so oddly, which is saying something coming from me. They seemed like characters in a movie, and it occurred to me that maybe I would enjoy the book more, or at all, if I tried to imagine the characters as movie stars. So I decided that the Rock Hudson-like guy would be Rock Hudson and that the Montgomery Clift-like guy would be Clift, the younger Montgomery Clift, like from around A Place in the Sun. The girl, Emily, I had to think about for a minute. Debbie Reynolds? No, she was not quite that innocent. Definitely not Doris Day either, even if it was a Rock Hudson movie. I settled on Natalie Wood, and that seemed to work. I also made the movie black-and-white, although some of the Rock Hudson parts seemed like they should be in Technicolor.
Even after I had worked all that out I still had trouble reading more than few lines further. I was mostly just lying there thinking about what I’d already read, or what I could remember of it, as it was already rapidly disappearing from my brainscape.
The Clift guy, Porter Walker, was still making out with the Natalie Wood girl, Emily. Boy, in the old days I wouldn’t even let myself read these kinds of scenes. At least not ones that went on for so long. But then the sort of books I tended to read usually kept it to the basics. “He drew her scarlet mouth roughly to his. She did not resist. Far from it.” “She took the cigarette from my lips and flicked it out the window. I wondered if it landed on anybody. But I didn’t wonder for long.” “She turned and locked the door. She put the key in the top of her dress. I wondered if she was locking everyone else out or locking me in. I wondered but I didn’t care.” That sort of thing. But Miss Evans’s scene really went on and on. I decided to save it for later and picked up the murder story I was reading, This Sweet Sickness.

    I woke up around my usual time, eight or so, and all in all I didn’t feel too much like squeezing myself through my small window and hurling myself from the roof. Fortunately I had had only the one Manhattan. In fact if I hadn’t had that ale in 1890s France I would probably feel much better than I did. It’s always that just one more that pushes you over the borderline, even if you did have it in a different century.
My jaw ached from where the coast guard guy had socked me, but I didn't seem to have any teeth loose.
I threw my legs resignedly over the side of the bed and as usual reached for my cigarettes and lighter.
And here something genuinely unusual happened. First off, after lighting up I went into a coughing fit, but this wasn’t the unusual part. Well, maybe slightly unusual in that this fit was a bit more severe than usual, perhaps due to that powerful French stinkweed I’d smoked the night before.
What was unusual was that I finally decided that smoking was stupid unless you were planning to commit suicide in the very near future, and that I was quitting cigarettes now, after going through a minimum of a pack a day ever since I was overseas in the army. Amazingly I had never smoked before going into the service. But there I was in England going through all this boring training, everybody else smoked, I had lots of free time, so I started smoking. It was something to do. And here I was eighteen years after the war, still puffing away.
The only thing was, I was just about to stub out this last cigarette forever when I was already missing it. So I took another small drag, and this time I only coughed a little bit. Well, all right, I’d start cutting down today. I would smoke this one, but it would be my last one till after lunch. Then I’d take it from there
I finished the cigarette, only coughing a few more times, stubbed it out, got dressed and went out, taking Miss Evans’s book with me. It wouldn’t do to be seen with another novel until I managed to get through hers, if I could get through it.
I stopped again outside her door and pricked up my ears. She was no longer snoring, but at least there were no other alarming sounds, no keenings or wailings or gnashings of teeth that I could hear.

Breakfast passed pleasantly enough. My bruised jaw went unmentioned and perhaps unnoticed, possible proof that I was not the center of the universe after all. Kevin kept his nose in his Tom Swift book, and I read Ye Cannot Quench while my mother and my aunts sat and drank their coffee. They probably knew I was hungover. They were talking gardening and I remembered that I was supposed to pass on Mrs. Biddle's compliments on their garden, but I was not quite ready for such polite conversation. The ladies must have heard about Frank Sinatra being at the party I had gone to, but none of them asked me about him. If it had been Bishop Sheen or President Kennedy or Lawrence Welk or Arthur Godfrey I think they would be impressed, but I don’t think Sinatra means much to them.
Eventually Emily and Porter finished making love, and now, as Porter slept a “deep, poet’s sleep”, Emily picked up his copy of his epic poem from his night table and picked up where she had left off:
        Slam bang goes the drummer slackjawed above his traps,
        wang wang wang wails the sax man arching his back like a snake,
        bwah bwah bwah goes the trumpeter straight up
        at that smoky Heaven where churn the dreams of the damned
        and the screams of the saved propelled by the
        boomp boomp boomp of the bassman, and the
        chinkle tinkle pinkle of the piano fellow
        as I pound my beersopping table in glorious time –
        “Hearken! Hearken ye fools, and dig
        this crazy sound…”
Suddenly I remembered my appointment with Larry Winchester. I checked my watch. He had said ten or ten-thirty. I didn’t know how long he wanted to work (or whatever it was we were going to do) and I had to meet Mrs. Biddle for tea at four; so, as this was Saturday, I figured as soon as I'd had my shower I’d better head right over to church and go to confession, which seemed to be another habit I wasn’t quite ready to quit.
I managed to take my shower successfully, and I was coming down the third-floor hall after changing when, you guessed it, I ran into Miss Evans coming out of her doorway.
“Oh, Arnold,” she said.
She was wearing a bathrobe, and nothing else apparent except for rubber flip-flops.
“Hello, Miss Evans.”
“Gertrude, please, Arnold, for the last time.”
She held some bottles of unguents and lotions, and she had a towel over her arm, even though my aunts provide clean towels.
“Where are you off to, Arnold?”
“How nice.”
I didn’t really know what to say to this. I said nothing.
“I wish I were Catholic,” she said. “It would be nice to tell someone my sins and then to be cleansed. To start again. Anew.”
She reached over and touched my polo shirt.
“Are you allowed to go to confession wearing a sport shirt and Bermudas?” she asked.
“The rules are relaxed in the summer, at the seashore anyway,” I said.
“Perhaps I should go.”
“Sure, give it a try,” I said, and I started to pass.
“But what do I say? To the priest.”
“Say, ‘Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been such-and-such a time since my last confession.'”
“But I’ve never been to confession.”
“Oh, well, tell him it’s your first time then.”
“He won’t think it’s odd?”
“Priests are trained to deal with oddness.”
“I’ll tell him it’s been a year.”
“He won’t be terribly cross with me?”
“Probably not. Go to Father Reilly, he’s pretty easy-going.”
“Okay, I will. Goodbye, Arnold. Perhaps I’ll see you later in the day.”
And the way things were going she undoubtedly would see me. Unless I was kidnapped by Communist agents or creatures from outer space.
I headed downstairs and out and out into the beautiful warm day, off to the Star of the Sea. Off to see Father Reilly with my own boatload of sins. It occurred to me that his easy-goingness was surely going to be challenged today.

(Click here for our next deeply spiritual chapter. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of links to all other legally available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, soon to be a major mini-series event on the Lifetime Channel, starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters. A Larry Winchester/Dick Powell Production.)

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