Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mrs. Malazewski, the sweet “Angel” of B Street

Mrs. Malazewski, tending her garden, June, 1963

I promise that there are fabulous new episodes of Railroad Train to Heaven in the offing, but in the meanwhile let's revisit a classic "Tale from the O-Zone (Olney to the uninitiated)", first published here in June of 2007:

Everyone knew Mrs. Malazewski. A widow whose husband Stanley had worked as a tool grinder at the Heintz steel plant for many years, she lived alone in her small rowhome on B Street right across from the factory. (Right up the corner lived the famous poet-laureate of Olney, Arnold Schnabel, and his mother.) Her three children had grown and moved away, and she always had a happy word for the men coming to and from old Stan’s workplace. Often she would invite one or two of the boys to come in for a beer or two while she rolled pie dough with the enormous wooden roller her mother had brought over from Poland. (Mrs. Malazewski herself did not imbibe but she had always kept beer in the house for Stanley when he was alive and she continued to do so after he passed away at the age of forty-eight, the victim of a massive coronary perhaps hastened by his heavy diet of kielbasa and chops, Mrs. Malazewski’s homemade pies, and four quarts of Schmidt’s beer a day.) Soon it became a nightly event for quite a few of the guys to stop over at Mrs. Malazewski’s after work. Wanting only to cover expenses and to make a modest profit, Mrs. Malazewski regretfully had to begin to charge the boys for their beers and shots of Schenley’s whiskey, not to mention the hot brisket sandwiches and rhubarb pie with fresh whipped cream, but her prices still were half of what Pat asked over at his legal Tavern, not to mention the Green Parrot or the Huddle. (And her food was better than at any of those places!)

As business picked up, Mrs. Malazewski had her basement soundproofed, installed a jukebox and an ice machine down there, and even occasionally hosted informal jam sessions featuring off-duty musicians (such as Joe and Larry Schmidt, Missy McDonough, Ronnie Doyle, and Joe E. Donatello) from the nearby Schwarzwald Inn. Evenings were quiet and mellow affairs at Mrs. Malazewski’s but things always picked up after two AM when the legitimate bars closed. Guys from the Heintz plant who had worked the 6PM-to 2AM shift knew they had a nice nearby stopping place where they could drink and talk, play the new pinball machine Mrs. M had brought in, have a quiet game of 8-Ball on the billiard table that now stood where the dining room table used to be, and then stagger happily home before first light.

Everything went fine until that night in November of 1962 when Hank Titana got out of hand.

Hank was an enormous and boisterous stoker at the plant, loud and obnoxious and opinionated, and no one really liked him, not even his own wife and children, in fact especially not his wife and children. (Hank spent almost every cent he earned on booze and gambling, and it was his wife who kept the household running, taking in sewing and making dresses out of her house on Wentz Street.) Only a year before Hank had finished a three-year jolt in Holmesburg for assault-and-battery, and that hadn’t been the first time his penchant for violence had landed him behind bars, either. Hank when he drank tended to act a lot worse than he did sober which was already bad, and unfortunately he drank every day, a lot. Mrs. Malazewski had never had any time for Hank Titana and had banned him from her house many years before when he broke all four legs of her kitchen table one night during an argument about baseball with her late husband Stanley.

However, one fateful cold November evening, after the inevitable had happened and Hank had finally been flagged from every last bar in Olney, he begged Mrs. Malazewski on bended knee and with cap in hand to allow him the honor of patronizing her establishment. He tearfully explained that it was either Mrs. Malazewski’s or sitting in the woods with a bottle for poor him, because his wife wouldn’t let him drink in the house. Mrs. Malazewski listened to his pleading for a while and finally relented, but only after assuring him that he was being allowed in on a trial basis only.

Something happened that night. There was talk of a big fight at Mrs. Malazewski’s, and indeed a few of the guys came in to the plant the next day with black eyes. But one fellow who didn’t come in to the plant was the fearsome Hank Titana.

Hank had disappeared and no one knew where. The word spread that Hank, who was on still on parole for his last conviction, had skipped town after beating a few guys up, fearing to be sent back to the slammer for good as a three-time loser. When his wife finally reported his disappearance a few days later Detective Morris “Big Mo” Berg stopped by and had a little talk with Mrs. Malazewski. Over good hot Maxwell House coffee and warm rhubarb pie she told Big Mo that, yes, there had been a little conniption that night when Hank and a few other boys were visiting, but that she had thrown Hank out on his ear and his filthy old cap after him and told him never to darken her doorway again. Big Mo took a look around the little house, even went out into the tiny yard where Mrs. Malazewski grew hardy rhododenrons able to survive even amidst the harsh fumes constantly wafting down from the factory, and then he thanked Mrs M and left.

After that one unpleasant night it was business as usual at Mrs. Malazewski’s. (Once a month until the last of her four kids turned eighteen Mrs. Titana found an unstamped envelope with a hundred dollars in it slipped through her mail slot late at night; whether this allowance came from some local benefactor or benefactors, or even from the awful Hank Titana himself, trying finally to do right by his family, no one ever knew.)

In 1979 Mrs. Malazewski finally passed away quietly at home. The Heintz plant had closed some years before, and Mrs. Malazewski had eventually retired her speakeasy, although she was always ready to offer a cup of tea or a glass of beer to a neighbor or a passing policeman.

A nice young Korean couple bought the little house from Mrs. Malazewski’s children. The wife, Mrs. Oh, set immediately to work on the backyard garden, which had been sadly neglected since Mrs. Malazewski’s death several months before. Imagine Mrs. Oh’s surprise when, upon digging up the earth in order to lay fresh soil she found the decomposed remains of a big-boned man, his skull crushed. Next to the skeleton lay a large and severely dented rolling pin. Scientific examination proved that the dead man was none other than the long-missing Hank Titana, and that death had been caused by a blow to the head with the rolling pin, which in fact was Mrs. Malazewski’s, brought over by her mother from the old country in 1904.

Big Mo Berg, himself about to retire after thirty-five years on the force, declared the case finally closed.

(Kindly refer to the right hand side of this page to find links to other fabulous "Tales From the O-Zone".)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

De Profundis: Byberry

While we're on vacation in lovely Cape May County, NJ, we thought it would be nice, if sobering, to reprise this classic Arnold Schnabel sonnet, first posted here on April 19, 2007, but written in the first week of his commitment to the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry (pictured above), during that very dark January of 1963. Originally published, as were all of Arnold's poems during his lifetime, in the "Olney Times". (Grateful acknowledgement as always to the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia, PA.)

"One Night"

One night the ceiling opened and I rose up slowly;
Above my house I twisted round, looked down and back
On Nedro Avenue, B Street, and the Heintz factory;
Black smoke billowed from a gaping maw-like stack,
Smoke enveloped me and all was dark;
Like a dead cinder upward I floated and spinned:
I called to God for light, a tiny spark:
He did not answer. The reason? I had sinned.
For fifteen years I stared at the night within my head
And then at last I slept for another fifteen,
Till I awoke firmly bound to a clean white bed.
It’s been several days and now the bed is not so clean,
And neither am I; each night I watch the ceiling yawn,
But I am well-strapped in: I await the dawn.

(For links to other poems from Arnold Schnabel, some as scary but none of them scarier, and to the various chapters of our ongoing serialization of his previously unpublished memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, check the right hand column of this page.)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven,” Part 94: rain

Previously in this critically-acclaimed (“both longer than, and, frankly, a hell of a lot more readable than À la recherche du temps perdu” -- Harold Bloom) memoir, our hero Arnold Schnabel went into Mrs. Biddle’s room and found himself on a plantation in the Philippines, circa 1933. As accepting of life’s vicissitudes as ever, Arnold takes tea with the lady on her second-floor veranda...

She paused, holding the pot.

“Darling, I just realized I don’t even know how you take your tea.”

“Don’t feel bad, I barely know how I take my tea myself.”



“One lump or two?” she asked. “Or honey?”

“What the heck, let’s go with honey. One teaspoonful.”

“That’s exactly how I take it,” she said.

She fixed our tea. I lifted my cup and tasted it: pretty good, actually.

“You like it?” she asked. “Tommy blends it himself. Assam and something else. And sometimes, yes, laudanum. But this —” she licked her lips appraisingly, “seems to be un-spiked. Or, if it is, it’s only just a teeny bit spiked.”

She put down her cup and saucer, took one puff from her cigarette and then stubbed it out in a large cut-glass ashtray.

“Here it comes again,” she said.

She was referring to the rain, which started just then with a smattering of fat drops exploding against the screening of the veranda, and which a moment later turned into an utter downpour, turning the outside world a dark streaming and clattering grey. The only illumination was from a handful of windows glowing like dying suns from the other buildings on the plantation, small blotches of dull swimming light in this submerged world.

“This damned rain,” she said. “Do you ever miss home? Philadelphia?”

“No,” I said, “not really.”

It was good to sit here drinking sweetened strong tea, out of the downpour, sitting with this beautiful lady. I took a bite of a sandwich. Chicken salad. And very good.

“This racket,” she said. “This rain. It sounds like all the heavens are crashing down.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “They’re not.”

“No, of course they’re not.” She put her hand, the one with a wedding ring on it, onto my knee. “You’re so strong, Arnold. So unflappable.”

“Not particularly,” I said. “These people who work on your plantation. They’re strong.”

“Yes, I suppose they are.” She lifted her hand, flexed and unflexed it. “And I suppose you think I’m horribly spoiled.”

“No,” I said.

“I do work you know. I’m up at seven every morning attending to affairs. Tommy oversees the fields and I deal with the house and the ordering and transport and everything else. While Jimmy drinks. Drinks and gambles. Drinks and whores and gambles.” She looked away, out at the downpour beyond the veranda’s screening. It was like being behind a waterfall. “Perhaps I’ve said too much,” she said.

“Oh, no,” I said.

I tried another sandwich. Pork I believe, also excellent.

“I’m horribly unhappy, Arnold. I no longer love Jimmy; and he has never loved me. He married me for my money, I know that now. But if I divorce him my mother will have a cow, an absolute cow. Catholic you know. And my father will be none too happy either, believe me, as Jimmy took all my money and sank it into this hellhole and it’s all in his name and if I divorce him I know he won’t give me a red cent. What should I do?”

I thought about this a moment, chewing my sandwich.

“Could you wait till Jimmy gets really drunk one day and then have him sign the property over to you?”

She held still for a moment, then took a sip of her tea.

She laid the cup and saucer down.

“That’s actually not a bad idea. I could arrange for our lawyer Dr. Rodriguez to be there, all ready with his contracts and stamps and pens. I’m sure he’d be happy to do it. Dr. Rodriguez is slightly in love with me you see.”

There was a small plate of cookies on the tray also, I hadn’t even noticed them before. I started to reach for one but her hand intercepted mine and pulled it to her breast.

“Feel this,” she said. “Can you feel my heart beating.”

I could, actually.

“Yes,” I said.

I started to pull my hand away, but, not only would she not let go of it, she pulled it under her décolletage and placed it on her right breast, all the while staring into my eyes.

“Um,” I said.

“Don’t you want me, Arnold?”

“Well, it’s just that —”

“Your little — friend?”

“Yes,” I said.

She continued to hold my hand on her breast.

“Persephone is it?”

“Elektra,” I said.

“Are you going to marry her?”

“I doubt it,” I said.

"Why not?"

"I wouldn't want to inflict myself on her," I said, in all modesty.

"Oh, yes," she said. "This alleged breakdown of yours."

"It's not merely alleged," I said. Her breast was warm, and moist, but I suppose no more warm nor moist than my hand was.

"I don't give a damn about your breakdown," she said. "Pardon my language."

"Of course."

Despite myself I felt those ancient stirrings down below.

“Wait, did you hear something?” she asked.

All I could hear was the clattering rain.

She pulled my hand away from her breast and laid it, my hand, on the table.

I reached over for one of the cookies, it looked like a butter cookie.

“Oh, dear,” she said, looking over my head.

Putting the cookie between my lips and biting into it — it was indeed a butter cookie, crispy and delicious — I turned and saw a large blond-haired fellow in a disheveled and wet white suit come out onto the veranda.

“Hello, Jimmy,” said Mrs. Biddle. “You’re back early. How nice. Do you know Mr. Schnabel?”

(Click here for our next suspenseful chapter. Be so kind as to look to the right hand side of this page, where you will find a listing of links to all other available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, soon to be a budget-priced paperback manga from Ha! Karate Entertainment Corporation of Yokohama.)

Here’s another version of a great Serge Gainsbourg song, featuring the ever lovely Anna Karina: “Ne dis rien” -- “Don’t say anything”...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Eighty-Eight: Frank makes another really big revelation

In our previous episode of this masterwork from the prolific Remington portable of Larry Winchester, our heroes -- circling the earth in a casino-equipped flying saucer -- were regaled by Frank with the raison d’être of his “ancient and wise” race, and the perspicacious Daphne summed it all up with “what you’re saying is you yourselves have no lives of your own, and so you live vicariously through us..."

Frank paused, then, spreading his hands, he looked around the table.

“Did I tell ya this lady was smart? Wha’d I tell ya?”

Daphne rolled her eyes.

Harvey picked at the label of his Falstaff Beer bottle.

Dick lit a cigarette and, toying with his scuffed old Ronson lighter, he stared intently at Frank.

“And, yes,” Frank went on, “Mr. Ridpath, sometimes we pick up an -- oh, how shall I put it -- an exceptional earthling -- and, with a device we call the ‘Brain Flusher’, we -- well, we kinda sorta empty out the entire contents of the subject’s brains into one of these teeny tiny little ‘computer chips’ they call ‘em. Then back home a client just clips on a special sorta helmet kinda thing, presses a button, and -- wham -- he’s actually living the earthling subject’s life -- including his dreamlife, might I add.” Frank took a sip of his Dom Perignon. “Except it’s better than actually living life ‘cause ya got a rewind button for the good parts, and a fast-forward for the dull shit --”

“Uh-huh. Okay,” said Dick. “So, when I -- disappeared -- back in January ‘65, it was -- you guys -- um, flushing out my -- my brain.”

“That is correct, sir,” said Frank. “And you might be pleased to know that those contents of your brain -- in essence your very life, every moment you lived up until January 9, 1965 -- have been in the top ten for the past four-and-a-half years!”

“Fabulous,” said Dick. “Do I get any royalties?”

A ripple of nervous laughter coursed around the Pack.

Dick didn’t laugh, though, and neither did Daphne or Harvey.

Frank leaned forward, with a serious-looking demeanor.

“Mr. Ridpath, as I have said before, we are not pikers; and we shall address the issue of -- oh -- compensation -- forthwith.”

He now leaned back, smiling, expansive.

“Well,” said Dick, "I must say this explains a lot.”

“I’ll tell you what it explains --” said Daphne.

“Is that an empty glass I see before you, Mrs. Ridpath?” said Frank. He stood up halfway, picked up the magnum that stood on the table next to Daphne and filled her glass. “Leave it not be said. Mr. Ridpath, may I?”

Dick waved his hand, and Frank freshened his glass.

“And young Master Harvey?”

“I’m good,” said Harvey, who had only drunk about two-thirds of the one glass Arnold Stang had poured him a while ago.

“Just to wake up the bubbles,” said Frank, and, bending awkwardly over the table he dumped way too much champagne into Harvey’s glass causing six or seven ounces of the exquisite wine to foam up out of the glass and down onto the table cloth.

“Fuck,” said Harvey.

Frank shoved the bottle back into one of the entirely unnecessary ice buckets the waiters had put down and then finally he sat the fuck back down.

“But really,” he declaimed, “all I have thus far mentioned -- as fabulous as it all is -- is still only just part of our fabulous operation here.”

Dick leaned back in his chair, smoking, looking away from the table and off into the smoky and gaudy crowd.

“I mean,” said Frank, “if you’re innerested --”

“Oh. Please,” said Dick, “continue.”

“Ya see, Dick --” said Frank, ”may I call you Dick?”

Dick waved his cigarette indulgently, as if to say, more champagne, more bullshit, call me Dick, whatever.

“It’s kinda like in Vegas,” said Frank. “Now f’rinstance the slots are just great for most people -- just as the real-life dramas --”

“And comedies,” said Joey.

“Whatever --” said Frank, “alla this product we beam back home is great for most people, as are your wonderful earthling books and films and TV shows -- as are the, uh, 'brain-flushings' -- but -- just as the slots are not enough for some earthling high-rollers, so it is also with some of our people.”

“They want more action,” said Dean.

“Yeah,” said Dick. “I guess I would too if I had no life.”

“Heh heh. Whatever,” said Frank. “And so, to accommodate these high-rollers -- and in point of fact all these good people you see around you at the tables right now are just such high-rollers -- we have got a very special vacation package whereby we bring folks in from our world, give’em human forms and send ‘em down to earth for a while. So it’s kinda like watching a movie where you are actually in the movie. It’s real. Alla these wonderful people here are undergoing our 'how-to-act-like-an-earthling' orientation, and when they’re ready they’ll go down and actually live among you wackos for a while. Some of our guests dig it so much they spend twenty-thirty years on earth.”

“Maybe more,” said Richard Conte.

“Maybe more,” assented Frank.

“They get the bug,” said Joey.

“Yeah, we call it the Earth Bug,” said Frank. “Some people just can’t get enough.”

“O’ dat funky stuff, daddy,” said Sammy.

“Fine with us,” said Frank, “as long as they keep their monthly payments up.”

“Um --” Dick tapped his cigarette into an ashtray. “These -- uh -- faux earthlings --”

“Yes sir,” said Frank.

“Do you -- um, have I -- do you --” He went ahead and just stubbed out his cigarette, he really didn’t want it any more. “Do you think I might have ever met any of these -- uh -- these --”

“You most certainly have,” said Frank.

Daphne raised her champagne to her lips.

“Dare I ask,” said Dick --

“Howzabout,” said Frank, “Mrs. Ridpath’s own father?

Daphne sprayed a mouthful of fine champagne across the table.

(Go here for our next wacky installment. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for a listing of all other extant episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, third-place prize winner of the Lucky Strikes Sprawling Epic Award. Be sure to check out our listings of many of Larry's fine feature films as well, DVDs of which may be found in the bargain bins of better Walmarts nationwide.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 93: veranda

The plot thickens but does not quite congeal on this warm and humid afternoon in early August of 1963, in the old-fashioned seaside resort of Cape May, NJ...

In the previous episode of this legendary memoir (“Ulysses, À la recherche du temps perdu, and Railroad Train to Heaven -- the Big Three of 20th Century Literature -- and I’m being generous to Joyce and Proust” -- Harold Bloom), our hero Arnold Schnabel arrived sweating and late for his tea-date with Mrs. Biddle. He needn’t have rushed, because Arnold is informed by the old gent Tommy that Mrs. Biddle is probably napping. While Tommy goes to get Mrs. Biddle a young woman comes to the door. After a minute or so (and only because she tells him) he realizes that this lady is no other than Sister Mary Elizabeth. Enter Tommy, again...

“I’m here for Daphne,” she said to Tommy.

“Ah,” he said. “I’ll go get her. I think she’s napping in her room. Everyone’s napping.”
He turned to me. “Oh, I did find Mrs. Biddle, Mr. Schnabel. Sound asleep.”

“Oh, I hope you didn’t —”

“No, of course I woke her up. Tell you what, just go up to her room.”

“Her room?”

“I’ll bring you tea up there. You can have it on her veranda.”

“I — I — uh —” I said with my usual wit.

“What’s the matter? I assure you she’s dressed by now. At any rate she won’t let you in if she isn’t. Or at least I think she wouldn’t.”

“Oh! No! I — uh —”

I glanced at Sister Mary Elizabeth and she stared back at me blankly.

“Well,” said Tommy, “if you feel uncomfortable I could go up with you —”

This seemed like a great idea. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid of being alone in her room or on her veranda with Mrs. Biddle, it was just that I was afraid of somehow getting lost on the way there — or of something else perhaps even more disturbing happening.

“Well,” I said, “if you have to get up anyway, to get Daphne —”

“Oh, Miss Daphne’s room is on the first floor, in the rear, but —”


“But really, it’s no problem for me to go up with you.”

“Mr. Schnabel,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth, “don’t make this gentleman have to go up the stairs with you —”

“Oh, I assure you, sister,” said Tommy, “I don’t mind at all, and Lord knows I could use the exercise —”

“But really,” she said.

“It’s okay, Tommy,” I said. “I can go up alone. Just give me directions.”

“Can’t miss it, go up the stairs in the hall, first room on the right on the second floor.”

“First room —”

“On the right.”

“Do you want him to write down the directions?” asked Sister Mary Elizabeth.

Daphne walked into the room. She was wearing white shorts and a yellow polo shirt. Her hair was pinned back away from her ears with red barrettes, and she was barefoot.

“Oh, hi, everybody,” she said. “What’s up?”

“Arnold’s afraid to go to your grandmother’s room,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“As well he should be,” said Daphne. She came over and plumped down next to me on the couch. She had the look of someone just up from a nap. She leaned over, popped open the cigarette box and took out a Chesterfield.

Ever the gentleman, I hefted the heavy fat Buddha lighter and lit her cigarette. She sat, back, exhaling, and Tommy and the sister and I all watched her as if she were an endlessly fascinating movie come to life. Then she yawned and looked at me.

“What on earth are you and my grandmother going to talk about?”

“I haven’t really thought about it,” I said, which was true, but now I felt a shimmering of disquietude from a fresh new source.

Daphne said nothing, but stretched her arms, and her left arm, the one with the hand holding the lit Chesterfield, stretched behind my head and even touched it slightly; she smiled at Sister Mary Elizabeth: “You sneaked away!” she said.

“Yes,” said the sister.

Daphne reeled her long arm back in from over my head, and a fleck of ash from her cigarette tumbled down my nose.

“Won’t you get in all sorts of trouble?” she asked.

“What’s the worse they could do to me?” asked Sister Mary Elizabeth

“I don’t know!” said Daphne. “Send you to Africa?”

“I wish they would,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“I’ll leave you two young ladies,” said Tommy.

“Wait!” said Daphne. “If you’re making tea, would you bring us a cup?”

“Of course I’ll bring you a tray.”

“Ah, thank you, Tommy,” said Daphne.

And Tommy was off again.

“Arnold,” said Daphne, “don’t you have to go up to my grandmother’s room?”

“Oh, right,” I said.

I got up.

“You know which room is hers, right?”

“Yes,” I said. “I think so.”

“See you later,” she said.

“See ya,” I said.

“See you later, Mr. Schnabel,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Call him Arnold,” said Daphne.

“See you, Arnold,” said the sister.

I nodded to to her, and off I went, outfitted by Krass Brothers, Robert Hall, and Thom McAn, but naked as ever to the universe.

In the hall I went up the stairs and I came to the landing with the painting of the French people by the seaside. I hesitated before the painting. Then I put my hand into it, and into the living and breathing air of this sedate seaside scene. I drew it out again. Perhaps some other time.

I went up the next flight to the second floor and knocked on the first door to the right.


“Mrs. Biddle?” I called, although I don’t know who else I thought it might be.

“Darling, you’re here, do please come in.”

I opened the door and came in.

“Shut the door behind you, will you?” said Mrs. Biddle, and I did.

It may have been one thing for me consciously to choose not to go back in time again through that painting on the landing; however, as so often in this life, we cannot always choose what we will do, and thus I stepped into Mrs. Biddle’s boudoir not in 1963, but from the looks of things, 1933.

The young Mrs. Biddle sat at a dressing table, applying powder to her face with a large puff.

“Sorry, darling, just finishing my face.”

Everything was in black and white, and shades of grey, shades of black and silver.
She threw down the puff and rose from the chair. She wore a silky sort of shimmering gown like the color of moonlight. She came to me and put her hands on my arms and looked up at me.

“Kiss me,” she said.

I did, but briefly.

She drew back a bit, still holding onto my arms and looking up at me from under her lowered eyebrows, which were plucked pen-line thin.

“You’re not cross with me for over-napping, are you?”

“No,” I said. “I was napping myself.”

“Good. Shall we go out onto the veranda?”

“Okay,” I said.

She took my arm and we went across the room to the open French doors. A little breakfast table and a few matching chairs were out there, but she said, “No, darling, over here, side by side.” And she pulled my arm and led me to a small wicker sofa strewn with pillows, cushions, and scarves.

She gently sat down, drawing her legs up under her and, turning to look up at me, she patted the place next to her.

I sat down.

I looked out through the screening of the veranda, down at the grounds and buildings of the plantation, out at the jungle-covered hills and up at the enormous burnished-steel sky. A hushing and very warm breeze came down over the tops of the trees, and somewhere a parrot squawked thinly, like a human baby with the colic. The air smelled of coconuts and sugarcane, of pineapple and raw tobacco. And of Mrs. Biddle's perfume. My skin was moist under my suit.

“Cigarette, darling?”

She reached over and flicked open the top of a silver cigarette box on the long low glass-topped table in front of the sofa.

“No thanks,” I said. “I’m trying to quit. Or at least I think I am.”

“Will wonders never cease?” she said. She took out a cigarette, closed the box and tapped the cigarette on its engraved lid.

There was no table-lighter on this coffee-table, so I reached into the pocket of my suit, which was now a very lightweight white linen, and I found a lighter. I lit her cigarette.

“Please relax, dear,” she said. “Jimmy’s safely down in Manila.”

At a wild guess, I supposed Jimmy to be her husband. Mr. Biddle.

“And Tommy as you might or might not know,” she said, “is the absolute soul of discretion.”

I could definitely see her resemblance to Daphne now that she was so much closer to Daphne’s age. She was shorter than Daphne, and her hair was lighter — well, I think it was dyed, to tell the truth — but her eyes, her nose and mouth, her slim but strong figure —

“Why don’t you take a picture?” she asked.

“Oh, sorry,” I said.

“Oh, please, don’t apologize, I love it, an old married lady like me?”

“You’re not so old,” I said.

“I shall never see thirty again, darling, and for a woman that is simply doddering. But enough of this stupid banter. I’m so glad you came. I’ve been thinking about you nonstop. Simply nonstop.”

“God knows what you think about,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“When you think about me,” I said. “I’m myself twenty-four hours a day, and, believe me, it’s not that fascinating.”

“That’s just one of the things I love about you, you dear man, your almost complete lack of narcissism.”

“Perhaps if I were someone else I would be more narcissistic.”

“I’ve given the servants the afternoon off by the way,” she said. “It’s only you and me and Tommy in the house. My daughter is visiting with one of her little friends. So we shouldn’t have any interruptions.”

She put her hand on mine.

“So,” I said, “what did you want to talk about?”

“Are you decent?” called a voice from within her room.

“Oh, do just come in, Tommy,” called Mrs. Biddle.

Tommy came out onto the veranda carrying a very large and ornate tray with a tea service on it. He looked very young and dapper, dressed, like me, in a white suit.
He laid the tray on the table: a teapot, two cups and saucers, a sugar bowl and a honey bowl, a little silver pitcher of milk or cream. Tiny little engraved spoons, shiny as drops of rain. There was a pile of small crustless sandwiches on a silver platter, and a couple of small china plates.

“Shall I pour?” asked Tommy.

“No, Tommy, thank you so much; Mr. Schnabel and I are just going to have a little chat for an hour or so.”

“Of course. I’ll be in the drawing room. Listening to the radio. E.M. Forster is coming on with one of his little book-chats.”

“Splendid. Keep an eye on the door, darling, and if anyone comes by, send them away. Say I have a headache.”

He smiled and withdrew.

“Now,” she said, picking up the teapot. “First things first. Tea.” She lifted the lid of the pot and smelled the brew. “Ah, strong and piping hot.” She replaced the lid. “I don’t think that Tommy’s spiked it. But we shall see.”

(Kindly go here for our next thrilling adventure. And turn to the right hand side of this page to find a complete and up-to-date listing of links to all other possible episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, soon to be a major motion picture starring Ronald Colman, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Myrna Loy; a Larry Winchester Production.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Eighty-Seven: “Hey, we're good, we are very good...but...”

Our previous episode found our heroes still being entertained by Frank and the Rat Pack in the Samba Room, inside an enormous flying saucer floating invisibly between the Moon and the Earth, quite a long way from a mysterious tiny town called Disdain...

“Let me give ya a little backstory,” said Frank.

He realized that his cigarette had burnt down almost to his fingertips, and he dropped the butt into an ashtray.

“Back on Swampoodle --”

He paused, looking at Daphne, waiting to see if she would laugh again, but she merely rolled her eyes and turned to look at Johnnie Ray on the stage, who was in the middle of singing “Cry”.

“Back on our home planet we already got pretty much all we could possibly want. I mean nobody’s really gotta work. We got robots do most of the work. Everybody on the planet’s got a beautiful home, plus a lovely vacation home. We all got several cars, Winnebagos, whatever; we got private jets, yachts, speedboats, six-seven TV sets, hi-fi’s in every room, what-the-hell, lots of robot servants to heed our every beck and call. We all got it all and so therefore we got no need to run around killing and looting and raping all the time like you humans do. Plus we have virtually mastered what you earthlings call ‘death’. We have completely obliterated the aging process, and as for our medical skills, you saw what the Sailor was able to do with those nine-mil gunshot wounds which Mr. Ridpath and Harvey shall we say incurred.”

“Yeah,” said Dick. “That was definitely something, but -- I was wondering, why was the Sailor not able to -- to heal his own wounds --”

Physician heal thyself?” said Frank. “Hey, we’re good, we are very good, and the Sailor was one of the best, but, Mr. Ridpath, we are not that good. We have the power to use our life force to heal nearly any wound short of having your brains blown out, but, unfortunately, this life force can only be directed outward, to another creature but not inward to one’s own self. The Sailor had holes in both his brains and in all three of his hearts. He had cashed his chips.”

“Bit the big one,” said Dean.

“Bought the farm and the mortgage,” said Joey.

“He was one cool cat and I’ll miss him,” said Sammy.

“Sayonara, Sailor,” said Richard Conte, raising his double Gilbey’s on the rocks.

“'He played his string right up to the end,'” said Peter Lawford, raising his quadruple Haig & Haig.

Salut,” said Frank, raising his Manhattan.

Dick, Daphne and Harvey exchanged glances and then raised their glasses along with everyone else.

Everybody drank.

“So,” said Frank, putting down his glass, “Shit happens, but, by and large, we hardly ever croak. So -- what do we do with all this free time? Well, in the words of young Harvey’s generation, we ‘groove with the flow’. And we’ve been grooving with the flow for a goddam long time. But there’s just one little problem with, with all this -- this perfection if you will: we get bored. I mean, trust me on this, try grooving with the flow for a coupla thousand years and see if you don’t get a little itchy. And that’s where you earthlings come in.”

“A laugh a minute,” said Dick.

“Exactly, my friend,” said Frank. “An entertainment bonanza. ‘Cause my people -- we just eat up this earthling shit. Eat it up. I mean everything earthling -- we love your shit. Ya see, Dick, this is just one reason our saucers gotta actually visit your planet, you know, they’re scouting for good material, whatever, the very latest of books, of movies, music -- Harvey, you want an advance pressing of the new Beatles album? I can get it for you. No charge --”

“Uh --” said Harvey. He had been spacing out, slightly.

“TV shows,” said Frank, moving right on. “Dean --”

Dean, who had been leaning backward, watching a cigarette girl go by, said: “Yes, O mighty one.”

“What’s your show rated -- back home I mean?”

Dean held up eight fingers.

“Number eight,” said Frank. “Whereas on earth it’s only what? Seventeen?”

Dean shrugged, saying, “Fourteen.”

“Go figure,” said Frank. “Now, would you believe that Hee Haw is currently the seventh top rated TV show in our world?”

“Uh --” said Dick.

“I would,” said Daphne.

“But --” said Frank, “we do not only and merely enjoy these fabulous artistic creations -- what we are really crazy about is the actual, real, like cinéma verité wacky shenanigans of you crazy earthlings. I mean we never know what you birds are gonna come up with next. And so, through this very casino’s control room we monitor your activities, then beam ‘em back to our world for round-the-clock entertainment.”

Arnold Stang and Wally Cox had returned to the table, Arnold carrying two magnums of Dom Perignon champagne and Wally with two handfuls of flute glasses.

“What’s this?” said Frank. “We didn’t order --”

“It’s on Mr. Ray,” said Wally, tossing his head toward the stage, where Johnnie was hanging onto the mike stand, grinning in Frank’s direction, and bowing with a sweep of his arm.

“Fuckin’ Johnnie!” said Frank. “You bum!” he called. “Sing another song. Sing ‘The Little White Cloud That Cried’!”

“Will do, Frank,” said Johnnie, leaning into the microphone. ‘Little Cloud’, boys -- hit it!”

As Arnold and Wally popped the champagne and poured it all around, Frank went on:

“So, with our state-of-the-art hi-fi stereophonic high-definition holographic three-dimensional television cameras and microphones we pick up all the good stuff -- wars, pogroms, riots, you know, the real mass-appeal stuff -- all the way down to the boisterous barroom brawls to those sneaky little back-alley murders -- and, for the intelligentsia, we got the dramatic intense late-night relationship discussions over the kitchen table and a bottle of Four Roses, dig it, ‘Oh, honey, I’m sorry, I been schtupping your goddam brother --’ whatnot -- and, hey, leave us not forget the hardcore bedroom stuff --”

“The boom boom,” drawled Dean.

“The hiding of the salami,” said Joey.

“The beast with two backs,” said Sammy.

“Slam bam,” said Richard Conte.

“Thank you, ma’am,” said Peter Lawford.

“Ya see,” said Frank, “our race -- thank fucking Christ -- evolved past sex three-and-a-half billion years ago, so for us it’s kinda exotic fun watching you humans do the old slap-and-tickle, speaking of which -- Mr. Ridpath, how about that one you slipped the missus this afternoon? I mean, what was that about after four years of marriage?”

Frank made a punching gesture with his right fist.

“And this was not the first one of the day, either!” said Frank, smiling.

“I’ve said it before,” said Sammy. “Mister Ridpath is one lucky gentleman.”

Daphne, who had just emptied her flute glass in one good gulp, rose from her seat and reached down the table to grab one of the big bottles of champagne.

“I cannot wait to see the ratings for today!” said Frank.

Daphne refilled her champagne glass and put the magnum back down with a thump.

“This day had everything,” Frank went on. “Sex -- intrigue -- mystery -- and you wanta talk high adventure? What about that Thorndyke family episode? Up there on the butte or the mesa or whatever you fucking call it. Harvey, you were so fucking cool under fire. You know, you reminded me of nothing so much as my very good friend the very talented Mr. Steve McQueen when I gave him his first big break in Never So Few --”

Daphne, who had been taking a healthy sip or two of champagne through this, clapped her glass back down to the table.

“So in other words,” she said, “what you’re saying is you yourselves have no lives of your own, and so you live vicariously through us.”

(Click here for our next enthralling chapter. And kindly refer to the right hand side of this page for an exhaustive listing of links to all other extant chapters of A Town Called Disdain™ by Larry Winchester, the man Harold Bloom called “perhaps the only American author worthy to be mentioned in the same breath with Arnold Schnabel”. Please feel free to check out our listings of many of the classic films of Larry Winchester, most of them now available on budget-priced DVD and Blueray from Ha! Karate Home Entertainment of Yokohama.)

We will now turn the microphone over to Dusty Springfield:

Saturday, August 9, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 92: tea time

Previously in our complete and unexpurgated serialization of the autobiography Harold Bloom has called “a supreme triumph of art over madness”, Arnold Schnabel finally escaped the tender clutches of that hot-blooded novelist Gertrude Evans and double-timed it down the block to the sprawling house of Mrs. Biddle, late for his tea-date with that imposing lady on this warm afternoon in August of 1963, in the quaint seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey...

No one answered my knocking.

I stood there sweating in my Krass Brothers suit. The heavy wooden door behind the screen door was wide open, and I could see clearly enough past the foyer into that big living room which looked as if Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were about to enter it singing a love song.

I called hello.

My leg was hurting again, or rather it had never stopped hurting; I simply now became aware of it again.

I realized there was a door buzzer on the jamb, and I pressed it, but it must have been broken, I heard nothing.

I waited, then knocked a few more times. I called hello again once or twice.

I wondered if perhaps I was somehow mistaken. Had I merely dreamt or imagined that Mrs. Biddle had invited me to tea this afternoon? Or perhaps she had invited me but I had somehow missed a day. Perhaps today was really tomorrow. Perhaps I was dreaming now. Perhaps...

“Hello,” I called again, my voice breaking, and I was just turning to slink off when I heard a voice say:

“Oh! Sorry! One moment!”

Forty-seven seconds later Tommy appeared on the other side of the screen:

“Mr. Schnabel! What a pleasant surprise! Please come in!”

He opened the door and I came through.

Tommy seemed to be wearing the same cream-colored suit he’d been wearing earlier, now slightly rumpled, and with his striped tie loosened and the top button of his shirt undone.

“Forgive me,” he said. “I fell asleep in the chair. Dreaming. Of the old days.” He extended his hand and I took it. It was very slender and dry, slightly cool, but his clasp felt surprisingly strong.

I followed him through the foyer and into the living room. He waved a hand at the larger of the two couches in there and said, “To what do we owe the honor?”

“Mrs. Biddle invited me to tea,” I said, tentatively, and sitting where I had been beckoned to sit.

“Oh! Of course! I should rouse her!”

“Oh, is she sleeping?”

“I’m not sure. Wait here.”


“Fix yourself a drink if you like. If she is sleeping this may take a while.”

“Oh. Don’t wake her.”

I half-rose, half-heartedly.

“Are you kidding?” he said, already on his way out of the room. “She would murder me!
Make yourself a drink, or go in the kitchen and fetch yourself a cold beer.”

He was gone.

I sat there, the sweat on my back cooling and drying. The room was not air-conditioned, but the ceiling was very high, as were the open windows, and a few well-placed electric fans stirred the temperate air gently.

An engraved wooden cigarette box sat on the coffee table before me, it looked like the same one that Daphne had asked Larry to bring into the kitchen a dozen years ago or possibly just earlier that afternoon.

I opened the box, and there they were, all those glorious Chesterfield Kings, a couple of dozen white little tubes of ecstasy. There was also a table-lighter in the shape of a fat smiling Oriental man, the Buddha I think, I suppose he had relaxed and put on weight after achieving enlightenment; this lighter was big and stout, suitable for burning down whole villages or bashing in the skulls of unwary burglars.

I sighed, and closed the box without taking a cigarette, only the Buddha knows why.
A couple of New Yorker magazines lay on the table also, and I picked one up. To tell the truth I’ve never been a fan of this publication, although I’ve liked some of the cartoons.

I started to read what I pretty soon realized must be a short story.

A man named Brad comes home from the commuter train and his wife Gillian takes his briefcase and asks him if he would like a cocktail. He says yes, a scotch on the rocks would be nice. A little girl with golden hair comes running into the the room, crying,

“Daddy! Daddy!”

I closed the magazine and put it down. Suddenly a scotch on the rocks or even without rocks sounded like a good idea.

I was getting up to go over to the liquor cabinet when someone knocked on the screen door frame.

No one else was there to answer the knock, so I went over to the door. A young woman stood on the other side of the screen.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hello,” I said.

“Arnold,” she said.


I had no idea who she was.

“May I come in?” she said.

I opened the door and let her in.

She had very short light brown hair, and she wore a simple, almost girlish dress with a pattern of sunflowers on a white background. She carried a rather larger canvas bag, like something a woman would carry to the beach or to a picnic. She wore leather sandals and no socks.

“It’s me,” she said.

This happens to me a lot. I suppose I really am wrapped up in my own little universe, because my whole life people have been coming up to me and knowing who I am and everything that there is to know about me when I haven’t the slightest idea who they are. But I was not to remain ignorant for long.

“Don’t you recognize me?” she asked.

“Well —” I stalled.

I did sense something familiar about her. Had I met her at the party the night before?

“Sister Mary Elizabeth,” she said.

“Oh,” I said. And then, the veil falling at last, I said again: “Oh.”

“Do I look that different?”

“Yes,” I said.

“What are you doing here?” she asked. “Are you staying here too?”

“No,” I said. “I’m just here for tea.”

“For tea.”

“Yes, with Mrs. Biddle.” She cocked her head slightly, furrowing her brow. “Daphne’s grandmother,” I added.

“Oh. Is Daphne here?”

“I really don’t know.”

“Is anyone here?”

“Well, I know for sure that this man Tommy is here. He’s a friend of Mrs. Biddle’s.”

“And where is he?”

“Going to find Mrs. Biddle.”

“Ah. What a beautiful house. Do you think it would be okay if I sat?”

“I think so,” I said.

She went and sat down in a plush arm-chair near the sofa I had been sitting on, putting her big bag on the floor beside her, and I sat back down on the sofa.

“You look quite nice in your suit,” she said. “I’ve only ever seen you in your bathing suit. But still I recognized you. You’re probably wondering what I’m doing here.”

I thought it politic to hold my peace.

“Daphne invited me to visit her,” she said. “When she and I were talking by the car while you waited on the promenade. So I decided to sneak away while the other sisters were saying their private devotions in their rooms. I went out the window, changed my clothes in the old Crosley, and walked into town. My habit is in here,” she said, indicating her canvas bag. “What do you think of that?”

Fortunately for me Tommy came into the room just then.

“Oh,” he said. “Another visitor.”

“Hello,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

He came over to her and offered his hand.

“I’m Tommy,” he said.

She looked at his hand momentarily, then gave him her own hand. I thought he maybe was going to kiss it, nothing would surprise me at this point, but instead he only gave her hand a gentle shake.

“I’m Sister Mary Elizabeth,” she said.

“Charmed,” he said.

I’ll hand this to old Tommy, he didn’t bat an eyelash.

(Click here for our next thrilling chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to all possible episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, third-place winner of the Moveable Feast Award for Creative Memoir. Be sure to check out our listings of the Poems of Arnold Schnabel™ also, suitable for declamation at roasts, weddings, and retirement parties.)

Friday, August 8, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Eighty-Six: “We are all Swampoodlers here.”

Yes, Larry Winchester has taken us a long ways away from a little town called Disdain...

In our previous chapter Frank revealed to our heroes that he and the Rat Pack were in fact denizens of a planet “far, far away” called Swampoodle. As if that weren’t weird enough, it turns out that the night club they’re all in is part of a vast flying saucer floating between the earth and the moon, but invisible from the earth because it’s in another dimension, called Fishtown. This is too much for Daphne, and she bursts into a laughing fit.

Everyone waited, and when Daphne had calmed down a bit, Dick -- wanting to change the subject, but also genuinely curious -- said, “Frank, I wonder if I might I ask a question?”

Frank waved an indulgent hand.

“The spacemen in the flying saucer -- the little spacemen -- why did they look like -- like --”

“Like spacemen?” said Frank.

“Thank you. Whereas you fellows look like, well -- you know. Plus all these other people here -- they look like --”

“People?” suggested Frank, not unsuavely.

“Exactly,” said Dick. “I mean I presume they’re all, uh, Swampoodlers also.”

“That is correct,” said Frank. “We are all Swampoodlers here.”

Daphne, her beautiful eyes bulging, held her fist steadfastly over her mouth.

“So what gives?” asked Dick.

“Mr. Ridpath,” said Frank, “I have been in this business a very long time, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s ‘Give the people what they want’. It’s like my very good friend Joe E. Lewis says: ‘They want shit, give ‘em shit.’ You earthlings don’t want us to look like you. You want bug-eyed monsters, we give you bug-eyed monsters. Now when we’re here in, uh, Fishtown --” He paused, glancing at Daphne, but she maintained her composure. “When we are in this alternate dimension we are able to assume any shape we damn well please, just as in dreams. And when we pass through the wall into your reality we retain that particular corporeal reality so to speak.”

“That’s far fuckin’ out,” said Harvey.

“Indeed it is, my young friend,” said Frank.

“So what the hell do you really look like?” asked Harvey.

“I don’t think you wanta know that, Sonny-Jim,” said Dean, with a languid smile.

“I will take your word for that, sir,” said Harvey.

Helen Bedd had finished stripping and gone off, and a singer was onstage now, it was Johnnie Ray, or someone very much like Johnnie Ray, circa 1956.

“So,” said Daphne, showing she was back in charge of herself and able to hold an intelligent conversation like a well-brought-up person, “just to be sure I’m following all this -- you are not really Frank, and these guys are not really the Rat Pack.”

“Mrs. Ridpath, we are better than that. We are the quintessence of the Rat Pack.”

“Okay. I’m confused,” said Daphne.

“Perhaps another cocktail?” suggested Frank.


Frank waved to two waiters who stood respectfully nearby in their worn little red jackets, and they quickly came over. The one guy was played by Wally Cox, the other one was Arnold Stang.

“Another round, boys, same for everybody, and tell the bartender to put some booze in them this time. And get Harvey a real drink. What about a whiskey, Harve? Four Roses? Schenley’s?”

“I’ll take a Jack Daniel’s,” said Harvey. “On the rocks, please. And another beer.”

“Beer and a Jack,” said Frank. “Make it a double Jack. Doubles for everybody.”

Wally and Arnold dashed away in between the crowded tables.

“I think you guys are really weird,” said Daphne.

“Look who’s talking,” said Joey. “A human dame.”

“Zip it, Joey,” said Frank.

“Well, I’m only sayin’,” said Joey.

“Zip,” said Frank.

“So I’m zipping already,” said Joey.

“So, like,” said Harvey, “you’re just pretending to be Frank and the Rat Pack?”

“Well -- I wouldn’t say pretending,” said Frank.

“That’s pathetic,” said Harvey.

“What, you don’t think we’re cool?” said Joey. “What would you like us to be, Herman’s Hermits?”

“Joey --” said Frank.

“Awright,” said Joey, “I’m zippin’, I’m zippin’, I’m zipped.”

“Okay, uh, moving on,” said Dick, “if I may --”

“Please do, sir,” said Frank.

“Okay,” said Dick. He paused, for just a moment. “I’m wondering, just what are you doing exactly, you know, visiting the earth and, um, flying around in flying saucers, assuming human shape? You’re obviously far more advanced than us, so why the hell are you fooling around on our little planet? Is it scientific research, or -- are you trying to take over -- or -- I mean, what’s in it for you guys?”

Dick was quite serious, but the Rat Pack all seemed rather amused, and Joey and Dean even had to stifle laughter. Frank raised a finger to keep the boys in line, then addressed Dick.

“One word, Mr. Ridpath: entertainment.”

“Entertainment,” said Dick.

“Yes,” said Frank. “It’s you humans. We can’t get enough of you. You and your favorite pastimes: sex, war, and insanity.”

To this Dick said nothing.

Daphne stubbed out her cigarette, pressing her tongue against the inside of her cheek.

Harvey studied his empty beer bottle.

“Okay,” said Frank, addressing Dick in particular, “perhaps you are offended by my candor and I can understand this. But you will I hope grant me this: you humans are a hoot, a laugh a minute, and never a dull moment. Always somethin’ happenin’. Now our race --”

“The Swampoodlers,” said Daphne, not laughing at all now.

“Yeah,” said Frank. “Well, we are a very ancient race, and dare I say a very wise race --”

“We’re the wiseguys,” said Joey.

“Joey, please.”

“Sorry, Frank.”

“We are,” said Frank, “we are -- oh, good, the drinks --”

Wally Cox and Arnold Stang arrived with the new round of drinks and started laying them down.

Frank picked up his double Four Roses Manhattan and held it up so that the stage lights shone through it.

“Ah, post time,” he said, and he took an appreciative sip. “So, where was I? Lost my fuckin’ train of thought --”

“You’re a very ancient and wise race,” said Dick.

“Correct. Ancient, wise -- wise and ancient -- and, well, let’s just say we’ve evolved a little bit past all this, you know -- war, insanity --”

“And sex?” asked Daphne.

“Yes,” said Frank.

“Oh, brother,” said Daphne, and without waiting for Arnold Stang to lay down her own double Manhattan, she reached up, took it off his tray, and took a good long gulp.

(Go here for our next laff-packed episode. And be so good as to check out the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other possible chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, soon to be a major motion picture from RKO, starring Lawrence Tierney, Ida Lupino, and the Bowery Boys; written, directed and produced by Larry Winchester.)

By popular demand, the very talented Mr. Billy Fury:

Thursday, August 7, 2008

We're back!

Hey, guys, we were offline for a few days with some repair work, but we hope to have a spanking new chapter of Larry Winchester's Carling Black Label Award-winning A Town Called Disdain ready for you by tomorrow morning.

Now we have to deal with 647 e-mails, but in the meantime, here's a little Helen Shapiro to hold you off:

Friday, August 1, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 91: never nothing

Previously in this critically-lauded (“...perhaps the greatest memoir of our time; certainly one of the longest” -- Harold Bloom) masterpiece, our hero Arnold Schnabel found himself awakened from a siesta by the sultry novelist Gertrude Evans, who thought that Arnold might have been talking to God, when in fact he was only talking in his sleep.

Scene: Arnold’s attic room in his aunts’ shambling Victorian house in Cape May, New Jersey, on an afternoon in August of that forgotten year: 1963...

“Well,” I said, “I’d better go now.”

“Yes, let’s go then,” she said, although she continued to fool with my hair, as if she were intently adjusting a display of flowers in a vase. “Quickly, Arnold.”

I turned, leaving her hand in mid-air, and went down the steps and to the door, with Miss Evans hard on my heels.

It was all I could do not to hunch my shoulders up to my ears, bracing myself against the possibility that she might leap upon my back like a maddened she-baboon.

I made it safely down to the hall, but here the faithful reader will not be surprised to learn that I suddenly felt an intense need to go to the bathroom. I considered skipping it and holding it in till I got to Mrs. Biddle’s house, but that would mean having to excuse myself and ask to use her bathroom immediately upon my arrival, causing her to wonder why I hadn’t relieved myself at my aunts’ house less than two blocks away, like a normal person. And besides, hadn’t I had enough high adventure the previous evening trying to find the bathroom at that good lady’s house? But opposed to all the above was the prospect of going to the bathroom here, like a normal person, but having Miss Evans waiting outside in the hall, listening to my every urinary and ablutionary sound.
Quite the quandary, and I suppose I stood there trying to come to a decision for a moment or two, or three, like a sweating wax statue, just a scant few feet from the bathroom.

“What’s the matter, Arnold?” said Miss Evans, coming around to face me, and putting her hand on my arm.

“Nothing,” I said.

She looked into my eyes, I suppose searchingly.

“It’s never nothing with you, Arnold. It’s always something. And I mean that in a good way. Something. Never nothing.”

I hated to burst her bubble, but anyway I said, “Well, really I was just trying to decide if I should use the bathroom.”

“Why shouldn’t you? I mean if you have to go. Do you have to go?”


“Then go.”


I stood there. She was still holding onto my arm.

“Go, Arnold,” she said again.

“All right,” I said. “But I want to ask you —”

“Anything,” she said. “Anything at all. Cross the Sahara on camel’s back? Paddle up the
Amazon in a dug-out canoe? Cross the Arctic in a dogsled?”


“Climb Mount Everest?”

“No. I just wanted to ask you not to wait outside the bathroom.”

“Oh! Of course! I mean of course not! I wouldn’t dream! Wait!”


“That scritching.” In fact I did hear a scritching noise. “It’s the phonograph needle,” she said. "The album side has come to its end.”

“Well, better flip it over,” I said.

“No,” she said, “I don’t think I want to listen to Tosca any more today. I want to go out, out to where there is life, and people, cocktails and merriment. And besides, I’m meeting that nice Father Reilly.” She paused, as if to give me space to say something. “Yes,” she replied to my non-existent question, “after your miracle today I felt I needed to talk to someone, so I borrowed your aunts’ telephone and dialed directory assistance, got the number of the rectory and called him. He agreed to meet me. At the Pilot House. Tell me, Arnold, would it be appropriate of me to order a highball?”

“Sure,” I said. Oh, by the way, she was still gripping onto my arm, my biceps, but the blood hadn’t gotten completely cut off yet.

“Good,” she said, “Do you suppose Father Reilly drinks?”

“I wouldn’t know,” I said, although I had never met a priest who didn’t drink, forget about the Irish ones.

“Well,” she said, “I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Now go, go use the bathroom! Why are you dawdling here You’ll be late for your tea date with Mrs. Biddle.”

“Okay,” I riposted.

I tried to sidle past her to get to the bathroom, and she turned with me, as if we were performing some painfully awkward square-dance, her hand sliding along my arm but not quite letting go.

“See ya,” I said.

“Yes,” she said. “I’ll see you later. And this time, Arnold, will you please leave the bathroom by conventional means?”

“Yes,” I promised.

“No teleportation.”

“No,” I said, and gently but firmly lifting her hand from my wrist, I disengaged myself and went into the bathroom and closed the door. I stood there quietly, thick seas of sweat oozing from my pores into my clothes. After perhaps half a minute I finally heard her footsteps go away down the hall, and, putting my ear to the door, I could even hear her close her own door.

As swiftly as possible, I urinated, washed my hands, tossed some cold water on my face, gave my teeth a quick brush, opened the door, peeked out toward Miss Evans’s room just to make sure the coast was clear, then tripped down the hall and bounded down the steps like an antelope before the madwoman could burst out of her apartment and trap me again.

My mother and aunts and Mrs. Rathbone were all still in the living room, and for good measure Miss Rathbone and Steve were there, too. Steve wore a pale yellow suit and Miss Rathbone wore a nice dress which seemed to be made of pink tissue paper, but they both looked somewhat rumpled, as if they too had recently risen from a nap, but with all their clothes on.

“And where are you off to all dressed up in your Easter outfit?” cried Steve.

“Oh, shut up, Steve,” said Miss Rathbone, and I realized they had not been napping but drinking.

“I’m having tea with Mrs. Biddle,” I said.

“Oh, how Oscar Wilde,” said Steve.

“Mrs. Biddle is a beautiful woman,” said Miss Rathbone, and I noticed that she had one of her pink cigarettes in each of her hands. “I would love to do her portrait.”

“Portrait of a grand old broad,” said Steve. He tried to tap a cigarette of his own into an ashtray and missed.

My three aunts were all looking as intently at Steve and Miss Rathbone as if they were a TV show, Burns and Allen, or Ralph and Alice Kramden.

“Will you be home for dinner, Arnold?” asked my sainted mother.

I told her maybe not, but not to worry about it.

“But we made sauerbraten.”

“I love sauerbraten,” said Steve.

“Okay, see you all later,” I said, heading for the door.

“High society,” said Steve. “No time for us common folk.”

He went on to say something else but I was already out the door.

As a railroad man and a church usher I have always prided myself on my punctuality, and here I was already ten or fifteen minutes late for my tea with Mrs. Biddle. Good for me she only lives less than two blocks away, and so not two minutes after ejecting myself from my aunts’ house I was knocking on the stout wooden frame of Mrs. Biddle’s screen door.

(Go here for our next exciting chapter. And please turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other possible episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, winner of the Shell Oil Award for Excellence in Confessional Literature.)