Friday, October 31, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 102: atomic

Master novelist (and bon vivant) Larry Winchester now returns to a couple of his more beloved characters whom we haven’t seen in a month or three: the town physician Doc Goldwasser and rancher Big Jake Johnstone…

(Go here for our previous chapter, or here to start the whole damn thing.)

Roger Miller’s “Dang Me” came on, and the Doc reached over and switched the car radio off.

“S’matter, Doc,” said Big Jake, “doncha like Roger Miller?”

“Not particularly,” said Doc Goldwasser.

Big Jake barreled his red 1969 Cadillac Coupe de Ville through the night along the worn desert road.

Dang me!” he sang. “Dang me!” And then he took a good draw on a fat Monte Cristo with the ring still on it.

The top was down, the desert sky was bright with stars.

The Doc pressed in the dashboard lighter and took a pack of Old Golds out of his side jacket pocket.

Up ahead a couple of miles lay the dark, never-lived-in Atomic Town, or what remained of it after that H-bomb test back in ’59 followed by years of pillaging from locals unafraid of or ignorant of the perils of radiation.

Oughta take a rope and hang me!” sang Jake.

The Doc stuck a cigarette into his mouth and waited for the lighter to pop.

Hang me from the fuckin’ highest tree!” sang Big Jake, and he reached down into the footspace and came up with a pint can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. Holding the red leather-covered steering wheel with his elbows he pulled the pop-top and white beer-foam sprayed up and all over his fat gut. He pulled his arms away from the wheel and the Cadillac swerved out into the desert.

The Doc grabbed onto the dashboard.

“Jesus Christ, Jake --”

Jake let out a whoop and grabbed the wheel with his left hand while pouring beer into his wide-open upraised mouth with his right hand.

Wiping his mouth on his embroidered cowboy jacket sleeve he wheeled the bucking and rocking car back onto the road without taking his foot off the gas pedal.

“Don’t you worry, Doc. What we gonna run into out here, anyhow? Some li’l ol’ kangaroo rat maybe? Naw, even them kangaroo rats don’t live out chyere.”

Jake’s accent had gotten progressively thicker all night, just as it always did after the first beer (and this was his ninth or tenth plus a couple or three whiskeys), forget about the fact that his old man had sent him to Andover for prep school and Dartmouth for college.

The Cadillac’s headlights now faintly illuminated the white husks of the outlying houses of the Atomic Town.

“Hey, Doc, whatcha gonna do we find that flyin’ saucer?”

The Doc had his fingers on the lighter handle, and now it finally popped.

“I’m gonna ask the spacemen to take me with them,” he said.

He lit his cigarette and put the lighter back into its socket.

“Hey, Doc,” said Big Jake, his whole life he’d never been able to keep his mouth shut for thirty seconds straight and he wasn’t about to start now, “hey, Doc, ya ever just jump in the jeep and take a joyride out here, you know, just for the hell of it like?”

“No,” said the Doc, not bothering to say that he never went anywhere just for the hell of it.

“I do,” said Big Jake. “I like to drive out here sometimes. Look at the empty houses. Empty church. Empty town hall. Empty streets and town square. Quiet as hell. Empty fuckin’ desert all around ya. Kinda like a vision of the fuckin’ end of the world.” He took a long draw on his fat cigar and then let the smoke trail slowly out the side of his mouth and over his shoulder and off into the night. “The fuckin’ end of the world,” he said again.

The Doc always avoided looking at Big Jake if he didn’t have to but now he did, for a second or two anyway.

“Didn’t know you were a poet, Jake.”

“Oh, I got my poetic side,” said Jake, and then he broke into song again. “Dang me! Dang me! Oughta take a rope and hang me! Hang me from the highest tree!

The Doc reached over and turned the radio back on. Tom Jones came on, singing “The Green Green Grass of Home”. The Doc turned the dial and then it was “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies. He switched the radio off and then he flinched and grunted in pain, just as if he’d been struck in the back of the head with a lead pipe.

“Fuck,” he said, putting his hand behind his right ear.

Jake turned and looked.

“Your head ailin’ ya, Doc?”

“Fuck,” said the Doc.

His face tight and pale as paper, the Doc tossed his cigarette out of the car, reached into his inside jacket pocket and took out the small brown medicine bottle. He struggled with the cap.

“Need your medicine, huh, Doc?”

“Shit,” said the Doc. “Fucking shit.”

Finally he got the cap off, he lifted the bottle to his mouth and took a good gulp. He held very still for a few seconds, his eyes closed. Then, his eyes still closed, he re-capped the bottle and lowered it to his side. His face was still tight, but now he opened his eyes. He began to breathe deeply and slowly. He put the bottle back into his jacket pocket.

“Better now, Doc?” asked Jake.

“It will be.”

“Got nothin’ but respect for you guys got wounded in the war, Doc. Nothin’ but respect. I was lucky, never got too near combat myself. Not that I wasn’t willin’, but -- you know the army, the army figgers out what it wants you to do, not you, and you damn well better do it. In my case it was be a supply sergeant. But lemme tell ya, I do say so myself, I was gonna be a supply sergeant? Well, sir, I was gonna be a damn good supply sergeant, yes sir. And again if I say so myself I don’t think there was another supply sergeant in the whole damn ETO who --”

“Jake --”

“Yeah, Doc.”

“Can we -- just be quiet for a while?”

“Yeah, sure, Doc, sure. Sorry.”

Jake drove on, closer to the town, humming “Dang Me” to himself.

The Doc put his hand behind his ear again.

“You got that ringin’ in your ear now, Doc? That there what is it -- tetanitus? Titannicitus? Tintinnicitus?”

“Tinnitus,” said the Doc. “No. Not now.”

“Hurts though, huh?”

“No,” said the Doc. “The pain’s stopped now.”

Jake’s Cadillac now entered the dead and empty streets of the Atomic Town. The windows of the houses and buildings were black and gaping and rimmed with jagged shards of blackened glass, tendrils of ancient shredded curtains undulating in some of them like the hair of drowned old women. Not a single door stood in any doorway, all of them either destroyed by the blast or stolen by looters. A few tumbleweeds blew sadly along the streets but there was not a single specimen of living plant life, not a single desert weed.

Jake slowed the car down, the better to appreciate the sepulchral stillness and devastation of the town.

“Funny,” he said. “Build a whole town just so you can destroy it. Just like everything else in the universe when ya stop and think about it. The good Lord created it all and in due time He in his infinite wisdom will destroy it all, along with you, me, and ever-body else including all the little beasts and children, God love ‘em.”

He glanced over at the Doc, who still held his hand over his ear.

“You sure that ear ain’t still ailin’ ya, Doc?”


“Then why you holdin’ your hand on it?”

“Because I’m hearing voices.”


“Yeah. And music.”

“No shit. What these voices sayin’?”

“I -- I can’t make it out too well.”

“What they sound like?”

“They sound like --”

“Like what?”

“Like a fucking nightmare.”

Suddenly Attie and Cleb Parsons came wheeling out of a side street on two old bicycles and into Jake’s headlights. Brother and sister both glowed a faint green in the bright light, as did their bikes.

Big Jake stopped the car.

“Now what them two kids doin’ way out here on their bikes?”

(Continued here. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other possible episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, soon to be a major motion picture from Larry Winchester Productions, starring Kirk Douglas as the Doc and Andy Devine as Big Jake.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 107: cry, baby

Return with us now to a warm August evening in that forgotten year of 1963, to Pete’s Tavern, Cape May’s unique African American drinking establishment, to which our hero Arnold Schnabel has resorted with his friends in an unsuccessful attempt to escape the supernaturally mundane Mr. and Mrs. DeVore…

(A glancing acquaintance with our previous chapter will perhaps make today’s episode slightly more comprehensible, if no more plausible.)

Father Reilly retrieved his hand with a squishing sound from DeVore’s manly grasp.

The poor father seemed unable or unwilling to give his name or a pseudonym and so Miss Evans helped him out.

“His name is James,” said Miss Evans.

“Pleased to meet you, Jim,” said Mr. DeVore. “And what’s your game?”

“My -- game?”

I noticed that Father Reilly had a smudge of lipstick on the side of his mouth.

“What’s your line?” DeVore asked him. “I’m in insurance myself.”

“I love your dress, by the way,” said Mrs. DeVore to Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“It’s not mine,” said the sister.

Miss Evans’s attention was distracted by this brief exchange, perhaps because someone else’s dress had been complimented as opposed to hers. She eyed appraisingly Sister Mary Elizabeth’s dress, and, I venture, the small but shapely person who wore it.

Seeing an opening, Father Reilly suddenly slipped out of the booth, shoved past Miss Evans and rushed down the bar, this thin white man in a white short-sleeved shirt and grey slacks among all these happy dark-skinned people; he made it to the door and was gone.

“Well, what’s his problem?” said Mr. DeVore.

“You scared him away,” said Miss Evans.

“I did?”

“No matter,” she said. “Arnold, will you buy me a drink?”

“Um,” I replied.

“No, this round’s on me!” said Mr. DeVore.

“Come sit with me, Arnold,” said Miss Evans, and sliding into the side of the booth Father Reilly had just vacated she grabbed my arm and pulled me in after her.

“Sit down, honey,” said the male DeVore to the female one, giving her a little series of shoves, and she slipped demurely into the opposite side of the booth with DeVore bustling in after her and saying, “Squeeze in with us!” to Sister Mary Elizabeth, who had just finished inserting the last of her dimes into the jukebox.

“No thanks,” she said, and she headed back down the bar to Daphne and Tommy and Charlie Coleman.

“What a great bar!” said DeVore. “Where’s the waitress? Let’s get blotto!”

Miss Evans put her hand on my right thigh.

A new song came on the jukebox, a man singing, “Cry, baby!

Miss Evans whispered in my ear, “Am I a fool always to chase impossible men?”

“Yes,” I said.

“How dare you,” she said.

“What are you drinking, Arnold,” asked Bob DeVore. “How about Manhattans?”

“Make mine a double,” said Miss Evans.

“Doubles all around!” said DeVore, his face like that of a boy on Christmas morning unwrapping a brand new Flexible Flyer.

Miss Evans had now put her hand on my right forearm, gripping it so tightly I could see the veins on the back of my hand bulging and pulsing.

I felt at that moment that what little and precious sanity I had so carefully guarded and nurtured within myself for the past six months was now being sucked out of my very pores, that if I stayed at this table for very much longer I would be writing myself a one-way ticket back to a permanent padded cell in Byberry.

I slid back out of the booth, Miss Evans still holding onto my forearm.

“Where are you going, Arnold?”

“I’m uh going to get the waitress,” I said.

“Hurry back,” she said, and she released my arm.

“Yeah, tell that waitress to step on it, Arnold!” said DeVore, beaming with delight.

Mrs. DeVore said nothing.

I hurried back down the bar, flexing and unflexing the fingers of my right hand to restore its circulation.

When I got back to my friends I wasted no time.

“Listen, I told the DeVores and Miss Evans that I’m getting the waitress, but really I have to go.”

“Don’t go, Arnold,” said Daphne. “We’re having fun.”

“You people stay here and enjoy yourselves,” I said. “Sorry.”

“What should we tell them if they ask where you went?” asked Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“We’ll tell them you took ill,” said Tommy.

“Who they?” asked Charlie Coleman.

“Some very frightening people, Charlie,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Better hurry, Arnold,” said Daphne. “They’re all staring at you.”

“I feel guilty abandoning you all.”

“It’s not us they’re after, Arnold,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth. “Go, go to your lady friend.”

“Godspeed,” said Tommy.

I shook hands quickly with Tommy and Charlie, and without looking back I made a mad dash for the door.

Outside the evening was falling, and the sky which a quarter of an hour before had looked as if a box of crayons had been melted in it now looked like a great bowl of water into which a giant had spilled pale blue ink and then stirred with his fingers; the air was warm but fresh, blowing in from the ocean, smelling faintly of fried clams and beer. I cut across Jefferson Street, went past the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and across the parking lot. My leg was still gimpy of course, but I didn’t care. When I reached the sidewalk on the Ocean Street side I looked at my watch. Elektra had said to come by at around eight, and it was still only seven-thirty-two. I didn’t want to show up early and seem importunate or presumptuous, so I decided to walk or limp around and kill a little time. I went up the block to Washington and crossed with the light amid vacationers going out to dinner or to the shops and the bars. Across the street I looked back, and there, across the Acme parking lot and just leaving Pete’s Tavern, I saw Miss Evans in her silvery dress.

Averting my face I quickly ran up the steps of the church and in through those big doors again. I was thinking I could hide in one of the confessionals for a half hour or so until the coast was clear, but who should I see almost as soon as I entered the nave but Father Reilly on the aisle seat in the rearmost pew on the left.

(Continued here. And kindly look to the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of links to all other possible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, named a “notable book of the month” by the Lapsed Catholics of America.)

The Libertines: don’t look back...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 101: dang me

In our previous episode, Daphne’s father -- “Mac” MacNamara -- told his daughter of his first meeting with her mother during a V-1 bombardment in 1944 London. But, meanwhile, what of that wacky pair Derek and Paco, stoned out of their gourds in Paco’s comfy Quonset hut? For that matter, what’s up with Enid and Hope, surrounded by the bloodthirsty and uncouth Motorpsychos?

Derek, his blackened lungs full, passed the joint to Paco as the violins soared from the TV set.

Staring at the TV screen -- the officer gazing at the uniformed woman and she staring back at him from under her cap, cigarette smoke merging with the dust swirling around them -- Paco toked on the joint and lifted an “Archie and Veronica” jelly jar of his murky homemade pulque to his lips, drank, swallowed, and then slowly exhaled the smoke.

“Movie’s freakin’ me out, man,” said Derek, pouring some of the pulque from a quart fruit jar into a Flintstones glass.

“That ain’t no movie,” said Paco.

A Muriel Cigars commercial with three Edie Adamses came on.

Derek took a drink of the milky stuff, and after watching Edie Adams time three for half a minute he said:


“What what?” said Paco.

“It ain’t a movie?”

“No, man. Those are your friends in that movie. That movie ain’t no movie. It’s real. It’s happening.”

He passed the joint back to Derek, and Derek took a hit.

“What’s even heavier,” said Paco, “we’re in the movie too.”

Derek let out the smoke. The three Edie Adamses danced and sang on the TV.

“That’s heavy,” he said. “Three Edie Adamses.”

“Yeah,” said Paco. “Even one Edie Adams is some heavy shit.”

The commercial went off, and all three Edie Adamses with it.

The TV now showed a ’54 Dodge flatbed truck barreling down a dark desert road, with a ragged band of motorcyclists cruising along in front, on both sides, and behind. The cyclists all carried pistols, shotguns, or submachine guns. Heavily reverberated electric guitar music played on the soundtrack.

“Oy,” said Derek.

“Motorcycle movie,” said Paco.

“Fuckin’ love these movies, man,” said Derek, and he handed the joint back to Paco.


Hope drove, an intent look on her face, the draft whipping her dark hair over her leather-clad shoulders.

A Royal Marine commando knife was stuck into her belt.

Next to her sat Enid and then Moloch. Enid held the business end of her cocked and locked .45,, pressed against Moloch’s left temple, her thumb on the safety, her finger on the trigger; his head stuck halfway out the window, his Nazi cap had fallen off, his long greasy hair flowed in the air like dark yellow seaweed. Moloch’s Webley revolver was stuck into Enid’s jeans waistband. His hands were tied behind his back with his ratty old Magdalen College scarf.

Outside the truck the accompanying Motorpsychos roared blurrily along.

“God, you stink, Moloch,” said Enid. “How can you stand yourself?

“Ah, but that’s the point, my dear lady -- I cannot stand myself.”

Moloch turned his face toward Enid, smiling with his cracked and stained teeth and his ravaged lips, his mirrored Raybans flashing, and then he stuck out his leathery grey and pitted tongue.

With the muzzle of the .45 pressed against his forehead Enid pushed Moloch’s head back out the window.

“Don’t move, Moloch. Don’t even budge.”

“God, he’s so gross,” said Hope.

“Compliments,” said Moloch, his voice a bit strained what with the awkward position of his head and neck, “will avail you naught, my tender and soon to be devoured little mollusk.”

Enid rapped Moloch hard on the temple with the barrel of the .45, and then shoved it against his skull, pushing it farther out the window.

Moloch’s comrade Testicle rode along outside the passenger window of the truck. A large, bearded, toad-like man in a Nazi helmet and filthy denims and leather, in other words no different from thousands of other motorcycle renegades, he carried strapped to his chest a sawed-off Remington 7188 automatic shotgun with an eight-round magazine.

“Huzzah, Testicle!” cried Moloch.

“Huzzah, Moloch!” cried Testicle, overjoyed at having been so singled out.

Inside the truck Enid said, “Okay, not another word, Moloch, or I pull the trigger.”

“Oh, but I don’t think you will, Miss Enid.”

“Don’t bet on it, pal.”

“No, I don’t think you will,” he said, “because if you did, that very moment my comrades would descend upon you and this moist little sweetmeat like the mindless barbarians they are, and they will rip you apart by your --”

Enid brought the gun down and shoved it into Moloch’s crotch.

“Oh,” he said, gritting his teeth.

“Yeah,” she said. “’Oh.’”

“Oh dear,” he said.

“First you get it in the balls, Moloch.”

“Oh yes,” he said. “Yes, quite.”

She shoved the gun in harder.

“Yes,” said Moloch, “yes, yes, harder, please, like that.”

“Oh my God,” said Hope.

Enid brought the pistol up quickly and whacked Moloch hard across the jaw.

He slumped against the door, smiling dreamily behind his mirrored Raybans.

“Step on it, Hope,” said Enid.

Hope stepped on it, pressing the pedal all the way to the floor and running a couple of the Motorpsychos off the road. The way ahead was clear now. She reached up to the transistor radio duct-taped to the rearview mirror brace, switched it on and Roger Miller came on:

Dang me, dang me
They oughta take a rope and hang me
High from the highest tree
Woman would you weep for me?

(Breathlessly continued here. Please refer to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of all other extant chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, all contents vetted and approved by the Republican National Committee.)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 106: it's all right

Cape May, New Jersey; August, 1963:

In our previous episode of this steamy banned-in-Wasilla memoir, our hero Arnold Schnabel, having taken his friends into Pete’s Tavern in a desperate attempt to escape the terminally boring DeVores, has now fallen into the awkward situation of finding in this smoky bar no other than the hot-blooded novelist Gertrude Evans in the company of Arnold’s confessor, the long-suffering Father Reilly:

“What are you doing here, Arnold?” Miss Evans asked.

I’ve always had to wonder about this question, because it’s usually asked when it’s plainly obvious what one is doing. But I suppose I’m too harsh. People must say something, even when, as is often the case, they have nothing to say. And, now that I think about it, I myself have gone forty-two years on this planet with little or nothing to say, and yet I've never let that stop me from yammering nonsense night and day like everyone else.

At any rate, Miss Evans hardly gave me time to answer.

“Who is your little friend?”

She referred to Sister Mary Elizabeth, who was obliviously leaning over the jukebox and punching in songs like no one’s business.

“It’s uh --” somehow “sister” seemed like a bad idea, so I said simply, “Mary Elizabeth.”

“You certainly get around, don’t you, Arnold? I wonder if your Greek lady friend knows about this?”

“Well, no,” I said, probably a general “no”, as in no to anything Miss Evans might possibly say, including that I had a Greek lady friend.

“Men,” she said. “You’re so free. So wild. And so very dangerous.”

While this was going on I couldn’t help but notice Father Reilly sitting there looking as if he were trying to get rid of a bad case of hiccups by holding his breath. Occasionally he glanced up at Miss Evans, and at me, probably also at Sister Mary Elizabeth (it would have been hard not to, the way she was bending over the jukebox in her blue dress), and then back to his unfortunately empty glass.

“Oh! One of my songs finally!” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

Some fellows began to sing: “Say it’s all right.

Miss Evans put her hand on Sister Mary E.’s arm, and the sister straightened up and turned around.

“Hello,” said Miss Evans. “I’m Gertrude. A friend of Arnold’s.”

“Oh, hello,” said the sister. “Wait. You’re not his girlfriend, are you?”

“Oh my goodness no. So you know about her.”

“A little.”

“She’s quite the looker.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Greek,” said Miss Evans. “Hot blooded.”

“I thought she was Jewish,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth. She looked up at me. “Daphne told me she was Jewish.”

“Um --” I said.

“Oh but I’m being so rude,” said Miss Evans. “James,” she said, turning to Father Reilly, “you know Arnold, don’t you?”

The poor man now looked as if he were two heartbeats away from a fatal heart attack.

“I um uh,” he said.

The thing is, I knew who Father Reilly was from seeing him say the mass, but he only knew me from my disembodied voice in the darkness of the confessional, and as one of the nameless communicants kneeling at the rail and extending their tongues to receive the Host.

I decided on the spot to try to rescue him.

“I don’t think we’ve met,” I said, reaching down and putting out my hand. “Arnold. Arnold Schnabel.”

He put his hot soft wet hand in mine, and I shook it gently. It felt as if it would come right off with a good tug.

“I’m uh pleased to meet you,” he mumbled, and he withdrew his hand, looking around as if he were expecting the detectives to come in at any moment and slap him into handcuffs.

"James," said Miss Evans, "this is Arnold's friend Mary Margaret."

"Actually," said the sister -- she was now staring at Father Reilly, her head cocked to one side -- "it's Mary E-"

“You two must sit with us,” said Miss Evans.

"Um, uh, I," said Father Reilly, and he began to slide himself to the outside of the booth. “I really should run now,” he said.

“Oh no,” said Miss Evans, and she went over to stand by his side of the booth.

“No, really, Gertrude,” he said.

He halfway rose up in the booth, which is of course is as far as anyone can stand up in a booth.

She moved right up to the edge of the banquette. The only way he could get out now would be to shove her aside, knock her over, or climb over her.

“You said we could talk,” said Miss Evans.

“Yes, but, uh, I really --”

“Oh, no, I don’t believe it,” said Sister Mary E. She put her hand on my arm. “Look.”

I looked in the direction she was looking, toward the entrance. The DeVores had just come in, their heads swiveling in unison, and stopping when their eyes were in alignment with Tommy and Daphne, who were still deep in conversation with Charlie Coleman. Then the Devores cast their gaze methodically up along the crowded bar until they saw me. And they came.

“Oh, it’s those two” said Miss Evans. “The gang’s all here.”

What could I do? I was trapped. My only possible escape route was past the jukebox to where I saw the rest rooms were. But how long could I hide in the men’s room? No, I had to face the music.

In one second they were with us, very close to us, too close really.

“Arnold,” said Mr. DeVore, “we’ve been looking all over for you!”

“Yes!” said his wife. “We thought we’d try this folk novena.”

“Yeah, what happened?” said Mr. DeVore.

“Hello, Miss Evans,” said Mrs. DeVore.

“Hello,” said Miss Evans.

“Nice to see you, Miss Evans,” said Mr. DeVore.

“And you too,” said Miss Evans.

Father Reilly had finally given up and sat down again.

“So what happened to the novena?” asked Mr. DeVore.

“It was canceled,” I said.


“Yes. The priest got sick.”

I was really racking up the years in purgatory with all this lying, but it was too late to stop now.

“I hope he’s okay,” said Mrs. DeVore.

“Oh, I think so,” I said. “It was -- uh --”

“Summer cold?” offered Mr. DeVore.

“Yes,” I said.

“Summer colds are the worst,” said Mrs. DeVore.

This is another common saying that’s always bothered me. How are summer colds worse than winter colds? A cold’s a cold. But I thought it wise to let it pass.

“There was a novena?” asked Miss Evans.

“Canceled,” I said.

“So what are you doing here?” said Mr. DeVore, to me. That question again.

“That’s what I asked him,” said Miss Evans.

Mr. DeVore now turned his attention to Father Reilly.

“Hiya, fella. Bob DeVore,” he said, putting out his hand.

Now Father Reilly looked like he was going to throw up. But he lifted his hand, slowly, the way a little boy will lift his hand to a nun who holds a bronze ruler shoulder high, about to whack his palm with it for some bold malfeasance.

DeVore grabbed the father's hand and shook it vigorously, as if to get all the moisture out of it.

“And what’s your moniker?”

I think this is the first and only time outside of a movie or TV show that I’ve actually heard the word “moniker”.

(Continued here. In the meantime feel free to refer to the right hand side of this page where you should find an allegedly up-to-date listing of links to all other recovered chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, a Patriotic American™ Production.)

The Impressions:

Monday, October 20, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 100: falling

In our previous episode of this great patriotic epic of small-town America, the mysterious “Mac” MacNamara finally began to give his daughter Daphne a long-overdue explanation…

Frank crossed the room with two martinis.

“I am so touched by this touching father/daughter revelation scene,” he said, handing a martini to Brad. “Cue the surging violins and allow me one moment to pull out my dainty silk handkerchief.”

“Frank,” said Mac, “I suggest you do yourself a very big favor and for the last time shut your yap before I roll you up and start kicking you around this bridge like a soccer ball.”

Frank opened his mouth but then, apparently realizing that Mac wasn’t kidding, he lifted his glass to his lips in a half-hearted pretence that this was why he had opened his cowardly mouth in the first place.

Mac turned back to Daphne. He took a drag of his cigarette, and began.

“When I first came to the Earth, back in -- oh, God, 1938 -- I’ll admit, it was a lark. And, yeah, it’s true, I was in on the planning committee for World War II. The Big One we called it. I’ve got no excuses. I was young. I’d never been to the Earth before. I thought I’d grab a few kicks, stick around a few years, then get out.

“Yeah, get in, get off, and get the hell out. That was the idea.”

He paused, then took a good long drag of his Chesterfield, let the smoke fill his lungs and then he slowly let it all out.

The cloud of smoke dissipated to reveal the shadowed face of a twenty-five-years-younger Mac, in a muddy trenchcoat and a rakishly tilted khaki service cap.

From overhead came the whining spluttering of a V-1 flying bomb, followed by a pause and then the rocking blast of an explosion perhaps a hundred yards away.

Mac stood all alone at a dark bar, the only illumination a candle stuck into an ashtray near his elbow. With a cigarette between his lips he poured Haig & Haig into a tumbler.

Again the approaching rising spluttering of a V-1, much louder this time, and then the pause, much shorter now, and then a head-jolting explosion perhaps three doors away, the room shook as if it had been lifted from the ground three feet and then dropped, Mac bracing himself against the bar, one hand on his glass and the other on his bottle as glasses and liquor bottles crashed from the shelves and dust descended from the ceiling like a collapsing cloud.

The candle had gone out. Mac put his hand over his glass and calmly smoked his cigarette in the darkness till most of the dust settled. Then he lifted the glass and took a good drink.

“Get in and get out. But then something happened.”

Mac turned his head.

A young woman had just opened the door of the pub, the flickering illumination of burning buildings revealing her to be very good-looking indeed and wearing a well-tailored military uniform with a journalist’s badge on the right shoulder.

Leaving the door open, she walked across the room through the still-settling dust, opening a gold-and-tortoiseshell cigarette case. Taking out a cigarette she clicked the case shut and slid it into the side pocket of her tunic. Her peaked cap was tilted low over her large and somehow feline eyes. Now standing next to Mac, she put the cigarette between her lips.

Mac gave her a light with his scuffed Ronson, and she touched his hand as he did so. She drew the smoke in and then slowly let it out.

“Thanks for the light,” she said. “Now how about a drink?”

Another V-1 approached, it sounded like some flying drunken giant cursing insanely to itself, it flew overhead, passed on by, and then finally demolished some other building on the far side of the square. The Haig & Haig bottle wobbled on the bar and tumbled off, but the young woman caught it in her right hand.

The hair beneath her cap was dark blond, drawn up in an efficient bun in the back. Despite the shortages she had found lipstick and some discreet make-up, neither of which she needed, not for beauty’s sake. She looked around twenty-two, but she looked as if she had already seen as much of life and of death as a young infantry officer of her age might have seen.

Mac leaned over the bar, reached down, and brought up another glass tumbler. He blew into the glass and the young woman handed him the bottle of scotch. Mac poured her a good drink and handed it to her. She lifted the glass. Mac lifted his, and they clinked rims.

“Cheers, big ears,” she said.

They drank.

And they looked into each other’s eyes.

“That’s when it started.”

Her eyes were not afraid to look into his.

“I fell.”

That horrible spluttering of another V-1, growing louder, like some enormous broken truck hurtling through the night sky.

“I fell for an earthling dame.”

The V-1 exploded somewhere nearby, the room shook and rocked, the dust churned down and up, the last of the bottles and the glasses on the shelves came crashing down, Mac caught the bottle of Haig & Haig in his left hand before it could fall again. The girl put her left hand on Mac’s right arm, to steady herself.*

*Go here to see this lady's very special guest appearance in Arnold Schnabel's memoir Railroad Train to Heaven.

(Continued here and until our poetic license is revoked. Kindly refer to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, a Joe the Plumber Production.)

Vera Lynn: we’ll meet again --

Friday, October 17, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 105: busted

In our previous chapter of this critically-lauded (“If the Bible weren’t my Bible, this book would be my Bible” -- Sarah Palin) memoir, our hero -- that saint and only occasional sinner Arnold Schnabel -- went into Pete’s Tavern (Cape May’s unique “Negro bar”) with his friends Daphne, Tommy, and Sister Mary Elizabeth, where Arnold was greeted “like a long-lost brother” by Charlie Coleman, handyman and gentleman farmer.

August, 1963...

Sister Mary Elizabeth sat to my right, Daphne to my left, and Tommy next to her.

Charlie, who stood on the other side of the sister, raised his own glass of Schenley’s and shouted something in a toast, don’t ask me what.

We all drank our shots and Sister Mary Elizabeth started coughing.

“Are you okay,” I said, which is about all one can say when this sort of thing happens, accompanied by a light tapping on the afflicted person’s back.

“Yes,” she finally said, fanning her open mouth.

I felt somewhat abashed and guilty, if only because the back I had patted was a female back, the upper part of which was naked and as smooth and white as marble.

“Sip some beer,” I suggested.

“Does it taste better than the whiskey?”

“Not really,” I said, “but it washes the burn away.”

“Okay,” she said, and she sipped her beer.

She sighed, as the loud music tumbled around us through the happy chatter and laughter of all these drinking and smoking people.

“That’s better,” she said.

Charlie had moved around behind me, and was now standing between Daphne and Tommy, chatting away with them about God knows what; I sure didn’t. It occurred to me that I hadn’t introduced Charlie to my friends, but apparently they had done the honors themselves.

So here we were in Bar World, that world to which people of all races retreat just as soon as they have the price of a beer or a shot, preferably both, this darkened world where we can pretend for a while to be someone a little less sad and lonely and ignorant and fearful than the one we are condemned to be again when at last we stagger or crawl or are ejected into that awful other world outside.

Sister Mary E. nudged my arm.

“What are you thinking about?” she said.

“Oh, nothing,” I lied.

Who has the energy after all? It’s not as if we are morally obliged to open a conversational can of worms in response to each and every innocent question.

“I like it here,” she said. “First drink of whiskey. First drink of beer. First time I’ve ever been in a bar.”

She looked around. The other people in the place had all settled down into their own little universes, paying no attention to our little group. I suppose it wasn’t the first time white people had come in here. After all, it was a white people’s planet out there. Who were we to let the Negroes have their own little patch of turf to themselves?

And in fact, looking around discreetly through the dim light and the smoke I saw that we were not the only Caucasian people in the place. Down at the far right of the bar in a booth across from the jukebox sat a white couple, both of them sitting on the near side and thus facing away from me. The man was on the left, and from what little I could see of his face he seemed vaguely familiar, but then this was a small town, even in the height of the tourist season. He wore a white short-sleeved shirt. All I could see of the woman was her honey-colored hair, her round bare shoulders.

“Can we, Arnold?” I heard Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Can we what?”

“Play the jukebox. I’ve never played a jukebox.”

“Oh, sure,” I said.

“I don’t have any money, though, remember?”

“Oh, sure.”

Fortunately I had some of this in my wallet. I extricated a ten, managed to attract the bartender’s attention, asked him to back up Charlie with another beer and whiskey, and to please give me a buck’s worth of change for the jukebox. The good man did all this, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the cost of Charlie’s collation was only one dollar. To celebrate, and to further good relations between the races, I tipped the fellow a dollar, for which he solemnly thanked me, even calling me “sir”. (For some reason I usually get “buddy” in white bars, or “pal”, or the dreaded “chief”.)

I shoved the palmful of dimes toward the sister.

“Will you come with me?” she asked.

“Sure,” I said, my teeth rattling as Charlie pounded my back and shouted in gratitude.

I followed the sister down the narrow passage between the bar stools and the booths. Despite myself I could not help appreciating her small trim but rounded figure, and I was thinking I would probably have plenty of material for next Saturday’s confession to Father Reilly, if only in the impure thoughts department.

As we came up to the jukebox I also couldn’t help but notice the couple in that last booth, the woman with her left arm around the man’s back, kissing him. Well, good for them, I thought. Life is short. Life is short as well as being too long. At any rate life is hard, and why not kiss someone if you want to kiss them, provided of course it’s someone who wants to kiss you for some reason?

We got to the jukebox and Sister Mary Elizabeth began feeding it dimes, leaning forward in a way that made me think I’d better come closer to the jukebox and at least pretend to look at the song titles, but really so that I wouldn’t be tempted to look at Sister Mary Elizabeth. But now, even if I wasn’t looking at her, I was standing next to her, in fact she was touching me with her hip, and I could feel her warmth and her scent, which I now recognized as Daphne’s, although I couldn’t ever recall noticing Daphne’s scent.

“What should I play?” she asked. “I don’t know any of these songs.”

“Just punch numbers at random,” I said, the voice of wisdom, “first a letter and then a number.”

“I’d rather go by the song titles.”

“That’s a good method too.”

“How does 'Can I Get a Witness' sound?”

Someone tapped on my back.

“Well, hello, there,” said Miss Evans’s voice.

I turned, and it was indeed Miss Evans, with blurred lipstick and in a silvery dress with bare shoulders, her honey-colored hair identical to the hair of the woman who had been sitting in the booth, which of course had been her, and a quick glance past her revealed that the man sitting in the booth looking at me with a face expressing resignation and at least four or five other emotions and states of being was no other than my confessor, Father Reilly.

(Continued here, and for only God knows for how long. Kindly check out the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other extant episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™; imprimi potest, Msgr. John E. Staccato.)

Tell us about it, Ray:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 99: PBR

Larry Winchester, that master of montage, now returns the harsh truth of his camera’s eye to Dick, Daphne and Harvey, last seen getting ready to board a flying saucer in a space station somewhere between the earth and the moon. Our intrepid trio are accompanied by Daphne’s father the legendary Mac MacNamara (recently revealed to be of alien provenance), his cheerful mechanic Buddy Kelly, and the unwilling Frank and Brad…

(A glancing acquaintance with our previous episode might be helpful; or go here to see where the whole sad story began.)

The yard-wide TV monitor showed (with excellent color resolution) Paco and Derek staring at Paco’s little black-and-white TV, the small screen of which showed Mr. MacNamara, with his trench coat and hat removed, sitting in a swivel chair at a console, turning dials and flicking switches, observing readings in various little windows while keeping an eye on the big screens above, including the one showing the almost immobile Paco and Derek.

Dick Ridpath and Buddy Kelly sat to the right and left of Mac, and Buddy busily turned and flicked and pressed his own dials and switches and buttons.

This “bridge” was a circular room with television screens running all around the bulkheads, just as in the earlier flying saucer, but this room was larger, cleaner, more polished, newer.

One TV screen showed the space station receding, and seeming to be sailing directly toward the large cratered ball of the Moon.

Another screen showed the Earth, now drawing closer, and taking up more and more of the screen with its clouds and blues and greens and rich browns and its problematic race of human beings.

Other monitors showed, in slow motion:

Hope tying Moloch’s hands behind his back with his old school scarf as Enid covers him with her .45, while all around them in a frustrated circle the Motorpsychos gun their engines and brandish various firearms.

Doc Goldwasser and Big Jake driving in Jake’s shiny new red ‘69 Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible with a pair of fuzzy dice swinging from the rearview mirror.

Cleb and Attie Parsons, bicycling through the desert.*

And Derek and Paco, watching themselves being watched on Paco’s little TV.

Everything about this saucer was more comfortable than the other one our heroes had been in. The bulkheads were painted a soft blue, the floors were of polished parquet, and the swivel armchairs that circled the room were cushioned in plush purple velvet.

Frank and Brad sat grimly a few seats to the right of Dick, Frank smoking a cigarette and Brad a cigar, tapping their ashes into one of the built-in chrome ashtrays that were spaced every few feet on the mahogany ledge of the console running around the room.

Daphne, her gold lamé purse hanging from her shoulder by its spun-gold strap, stood at a neat little refreshments nook, mixing Gordon’s martinis. A sliding door revealed a cabinet filled with liquor and other sundries above a small sink, a microwave, and a stainless steel refrigerator. In an indented nook a large Mr. Coffee exuded a thin steady stream of Maxwell House into a steaming glass pot.

Harvey bowed down, peering into the refrigerator, which was well-stocked with cans and bottles of beer as well as a platter piled high with sandwiches individually wrapped in wax paper.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a drink, Papa?” asked Daphne.

“Not yet, sweety,” said Mac, continuing intently to twiddle, punch and flick. “Gotta keep my wits about me, and to be honest, I’m just a wee bit space-lagged as we call it. I will take a cup of that joe when it’s ready though.”

“Mr., uh, Mr. --” Harvey hesitated.

“It’s MacNamara, Harvey,” said Daphne.

“Mr. MacNamara,” said Harvey, “’s it okay I have one of these beers?”

“Help yourself, son,” said Mac. “I think there’s some Heineken, Beck’s --”

PBR’s okay with me, sir, thank you.”

“Good,” said Mac. “Well, Dick, it looks like we still might have time to get your two friends out of their little jam down there. Fortunately we have what's known as a relative time differential between the earth’s dimension and the one we’re in now --”

“Fishtown,” said Daphne, filling two martini glasses from a glass pitcher, and holding back the ice cubes with a long metal spoon.

“That’s right, sweetheart. Events on the earth happen at about one-twentieth the speed of this dimension, thus the slow-motion on the views of the earth you see on the screens here.”

He indicated the one screen showing Enid shoving Moloch slowly toward her truck.

Daphne came over with two martinis and handed one to Dick.

“Ah. For this relief much thanks,” said Dick.

“Cheers, big ears,” said Daphne.

Dick and Daphne clinked glasses and took their first sips.

“Mmm, wonderful,” said Daphne. “Buddy, would you like just a small one?”

“No, thanks, miss,” said Buddy. “I been on the wagon since 1944.”

“Well, that’s certainly impressive,” said Daphne.

“So what are we,” said Frank, “chopped liver?”

“Oh, I’ll get you a drink, Frank,” said Daphne. “Although I don’t know why I should -- the way you’ve been treating the entire human race like your little play-toys.”

“Hey,” said Frank, “remember, you’re only half human yourself, and your old man there is one hundred percent one of us --”

“Don’t you talk about my father,” said Daphne. “I’ll come right over there and slap your face and don’t think I won’t.”

“It’s all right, sweety,” said Mac, still working his dials and switches.

Brad leaned over toward Frank and whispered through his teeth: “Frank, put a lid on it.”

“Fuck you, traitor,” said Frank, in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear quite clearly. “Yo, Mac, tell your daughter here. Fill her in. Tell her how you were in on the whole World War II caper from the start. Tell her how it was your idea to get the Japs allied with Hitler. You thought it’d be more -- how’d you put it -- ‘more fun’ I think was the phrase you used. Wasn’t it you who said World War I was just a ‘warm-up act’? That now things were gonna get really wild? Tell her about it, Mac. You wanted some kicks, didn’t ya? Who gave a fuck if thirty million earthlings bit the big one? You wanted to play soldier, secret agent, big shot, tough guy, lover boy. Go on, tell her, Mac.”

“How’s that java, sweety?” Mac asked Daphne.

“I’ll get you a cup,” she said. “Black, right? Buddy, would you like a cup?”

“Four lumps and lots of cream, miss,” said Buddy.

“Righto,” said Daphne. She put her drink down on the ledge of the console near Dick and headed back to the refreshment nook. Harvey leaned against a counter near the refrigerator, drinking from a can of Pabst. His revolver was shoved into his waistband.

“I like my martinis bone dry, Mrs. Ridpath,” said Frank. “Icy cold and two olives.”

“Hmmpf!” was Daphne’s reply.

“Cool it, Frank, please,” said Brad.

“Better make Brad a double,” said Frank. “He’s nervous.”
“Frank,” said Harvey, “I ain’t gonna tell you again. Shut the fuck up.”

“Yeah,” said Frank. “Big man, with a roscoe stuck in your belt.”

Harvey drew his revolver from his belt and laid it down on the nearby ledge.

“Ain’t got no gun in my belt now, Frank. You wanta try me?”

Frank got up from his chair.

“Frank, sit the fuck down,” said Brad.

“Shut up, Brad. Hey, kid -- you wanta tangle? Watch this. Boom.”

Frank metamorphosed instantly into Bull Thorndyke in all his brutish glory -- six feet four inches and three hundred and two pounds of reeking raw nastiness, dressed in greasy denim overalls, a tattered ten-gallon hat, brownish-grey long-johns and shit-stained cowboy boots with duct tape wrapped around the toes.**

“Boom,” he said. “How you like this, soldier boy?”

“Jesus,” said Harvey.

“Oh my God,” said Daphne. She had brought out two cups with saucers and she stood there holding the coffee pot.

“C’mon, soldier boy,” said Bull. “Let me introduce your face to your asshole, motherfucker.”

“Frank,” said Brad.

“Shut your fuckin’ mouth, Brad. I’ll deal with you later.”

“Hey, Frank --” said Mr. MacNamara.

“What you want?” said Bull.

Mr. MacNamara pulled a Colt Python snubnose out of a belt holster on his left hip, pointed the gun at Bull and cocked the hammer.

“I want you to cut the shit,” said Mac. “Now change back to Frank and sit the fuck down or you’re gonna wind up as dead as the real Bull Thorndyke did.”

Bull hesitated a moment, then metamorphosed back into Frank.

“You guys got no sense of humor,” he said. “Look, Harve, no hard feelings, okay? Hey, Mac, okay if I make me and Brad a coupla libations of the alcoholic variety? I mean, no reflection on the service, but I’m gettin’ thirsty here --”

Mac lowered the hammer on his pistol, put it back into its holster, and turned back to his dials and switches.

“I don’t give a fuck what you do, Frank; just stay out of my way and keep your trap shut.”

“Thanks,” said Frank. “I love you too.”

Brad just shook his head.

Dick sipped his martini. He had swiveled his chair all the way around, and he kept his eye on Frank.

Frank waited while Daphne filled the two cups with coffee. Harvey picked up his pistol and shoved it back into his waistband. Daphne added cream and sugar cubes to one cup, stirred it, and then brought the thick diner-style cups and saucers over to Mac and Buddy.

Harvey stepped back a bit as Frank came over to the mini-bar.

“You people are just fucked up, man,” said Harvey.

“Funny talk coming from an earthling,” said Frank, opening the freezer compartment of the fridge and taking out an ice tray. “And maybe you should be careful what you say. After all, you’re talking about Mrs. Ridpath’s papa here.”

Daphne handed the cups and saucers to her father and to Buddy.

“Thank you, honey,” said Mr. MacNamara.

“You’re welcome, Papa.”

“Thanks, miss,” said Buddy.

“You’re welcome, Buddy. Enough cream?”

Buddy took a luxurious sip.

“Perfecto,” he said.

“Good,” said Daphne. She picked up her own drink. “Oh, and by the way, Frank,” she called across the room, “my father is nothing like you.”

“Oh, sure, sure,” said Frank. Having dumped a trayful of ice cubes into the pitcher, he poured about half a bottle of gin into it.

“Yes,” said Daphne. “Sure.”

Frank didn’t bother adding vermouth. He brought two martini glasses down from the cabinet, and, after shaking the pitcher around a bit in his hand, he filled the glasses, using his left index finger as a strainer. He put the pitcher down, licked his gin-soaked finger, then picked up the olive jar.

Daphne touched her father gently on the shoulder.

“Papa --” she said.

“Sweetheart,” he said. Holding his coffee cup in his left hand, he was still intently pressing buttons with his right hand, checking gauges, gently adjusting dials.

Dick sipped his martini, silent, watchful.

Mr. MacNamara finally took his first drink of coffee, nodded his head in approval, took another good drink, then laid the cup and saucer on the console ledge.

“Okay, Buddy,” said he said, “keep her steady as she goes, and give me a two-minute warning before we engage the woofer.”

“Yes, sir, Major,” said Buddy.

Mac swiveled around in his chair, took out his cigarettes, offered the pack to Dick and to Daphne, who both declined. He shook one out for himself. He took out his lighter, lit himself up, and looked at Daphne, sipping her drink as if contemplatively.

“I guess I owe you some sort of explanation, Bubbles,” he said.

*Click here to revisit Cleb and Attie's last appearance, which was only, like, a year ago.

**Bull Thorndyke's one and only previous appearance in our series was way back in Episode One.

(Go here for our next thrilling chapter. Kindly check out the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of all other available episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, third-place prize-winner of the Pabst Blue Ribbon Award for Epic Literature.)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 104: Pete’s

Our preceding episode ended with our memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his friends outside the side entrance of Our Lady Star of the Sea R.C. Church in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, NJ, on an early evening in August of 1963, that last year of the skinny tie and of shirtwaist dresses, of brown shoes, crewcuts and beehive hairdos. John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were all still alive, and the number one record was “So Much in Love” by the Tymes. Trouble was brewing in an obscure country called South Vietnam, but Arnold has his own problems, the most pressing of which is to escape the aggressively boring Mr. and Mrs. DeVore…

With me leading the way we boldly jay-walked across Ocean Street. On the other side -- all of our little band having made it across unharmed -- I decided it best that we cut across the Acme parking lot. Unfortunately, in my haste, and perhaps because I was favoring my sore leg, I tripped over the little strip of concrete bordering the parking lot and came a-cropper in a full bellyflop onto the warm tarmac.

Everyone came over, and Daphne and Sister Mary Elizabeth pulled on my arms and helped to get me to into a sitting position.

“Are you okay, Arnold?” asked Daphne.

My knees were reddened, as was my right forearm and the heel of my left hand. Nevertheless the pain in my right leg seemed no worse than before.

“Yes, I think so,” I said.

Now that we had come to a halt Tommy was finally lighting the cigarette he had first taken out at the beginning of our chase.

“Here,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth, and she came around behind me and put a hand under the upper part of both my arms. “Alley oop,” she said.

She might be a small woman, but she is strong, and very soon I was in a standing position.

“Okay?” she asked, patting my arm.

“Yeah,” I said, doing my best to act as if I still retained a shred of dignity. If I had been wearing a tie I would have tightened its knot. “We’d better get moving,” I said.

I took a step and a sharp agonizing pain jolted up my bad leg.

“Ow,” I said. “Ow.” I stopped. I put my hand on the trunk of a purple Pontiac Tempest. “Um --”

“Wow,” said Sister Mary E., coming over and putting her hand on my arm. “You really hurt your leg.”

“Just a little,” I said. In fact now that I had stopped trying to walk it didn’t hurt too much. But why oh why had I had to climb out of that second-floor window earlier today? The simple answer was that then, as now, it had seemed all-important to me to escape from one or more of my fellow human beings.

“Listen,” I said, suddenly feeling noble, I don’t know why. “You people go on ahead. I’ll catch up.”

“Arnold,” said Sister Mary E., “this isn’t some war movie where the Nazis are after us. It’s only a couple of boring people. And we’re not going to leave you here.”

She had a good point, and I suddenly realized just how absurd this whole business was. Why were we going to all this frenetic effort just to avoid two tedious morons? Once again I was behaving insanely. But then my new friends had gone along with me. Were they insane too? Had I infected them with my madness?

“Okay,” I said to the sister, anyway. “I may need to hold onto an arm.”

She gave me hers, and we started across the parking lot, myself limping but not in unbearable pain.

“Well,” said Tommy, who walked along joining his arm with Daphne’s, “I don’t know about you young people, but I’m having an absolute ball.”

“Me too,” said Daphne.

We continued toward the Jefferson Street side of the parking lot, by which was parked the enormous metallic frankfurter of an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

“Oh,” said Daphne, “look at the sun.”

Off to our left the sun blazed its final scarlet burst from beyond the flashing tiled roof of the parish hall, scattering a million sparks of gold and red all over the glass and mirrors and chrome of the scores of parked cars serried all around us.

We all stopped for a moment, saying nothing. Then the sun flickered like a silent faraway explosion behind the roofs and trees and was gone except for some great streaks the colors of gold and blood splashed up onto the yellow ceiling of the sky and then lost in an ocean of pink and blue clouds.

I looked down and around at the suddenly softened mob of automobiles, at the air that had already taken on a suggestion of a hazy blue, over at the purplish grey bricks of the church, from the side entrance of which I saw the DeVores emerge.

“Duck!” I said “It’s them!”

We all ducked down behind a red Thunderbird hardtop.

“Did they see us?” asked Sister Mary E.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“We should keep moving,” said Daphne. “We’re almost there. But stay low.”

“Head for the Oscar Mayer truck,” I said.

Crouched down, we scurried in between the Dodges and Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles and Packards and made it to the far side of the Wienermobile, which was parked parallel to Ocean Street.

“All right,” I said, gritting my teeth heroically against the pain in my leg. “Keep the Wienermobile behind you, and head right across the street and into the bar.”

We didn’t even wait for the light to change and traffic to slow down. Keeping low, we shot across the street, and once again none of us was run over or even grazed by a passing car.

Daphne got to the door of Pete’s Tavern first, and she turned and looked back.

“I don’t see them,” she said. “Hurry up.”

She opened the door, Sister Mary Elizabeth and Tommy hurried into the shadowed entrance, and finally I hobbled up. The inside smelled strongly of beer and whiskey, of tobacco, of old leather and plastic, and welcoming dim lights swum in the darkness.

“Get on in there, soldier,” said Daphne, waving her hand, and I went on in. She came right behind me, letting the door wheeze inward on its pneumatic closer.

A rhythm-and-blues song played loudly on the jukebox and a whole bar full of Negroes turned to look at us through the cigarette and cigar smoke, not to mention what certainly seemed to me to be marijuana smoke.

Daphne put her arm in mind.

“You will protect me, won’t you, Arnold?”

Before I could answer with a reassuring lie I heard an old man’s voice shouting.

I had no idea what the voice was saying, and my first reaction was that this was a bad idea and that we should beat a hasty retreat, that even being captured by the DeVores might be better than being caught in the middle of a race riot.

But then an old Negro man came down the long bar and past the row of booths to our right.

It was Charlie Coleman, my aunts’ part-time factum factotum and purveyor of eggs, poultry, fruits and vegetables.*

“Hello, Charlie,” I said, and I took his proffered hand, which he proceeded to shake with both of his as if we were long lost brothers.

I only understood about one in every five of the words he proceeded to speak, but this didn’t seem to bother Charlie at all, and in short order he had cleared away four consecutive stools at the bar for us and bought all four of us glasses of Ortlieb’s and shots of Schenley’s whiskey.

A man on the jukebox sang, “Please, please, please.”

*Click here to see Charlie's previous appearance in Arnold's memoirs.

(Tuned in here for our next thrilling episode. In the meantime please feel free to visit the right side of this page, where you will find an up-to-date listing of links to all other extant episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, a Joe Sixpack Production.)

Uh-oh: James Brown, Tina Turner, and Booker T & the MGs...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 98: fried

Return with us now to the outskirts of a Native American reservation somewhere between the harsh New Mexican desert and the depressed little town of our title on a foreboding night in September in the year 1969, the month after the summer that brought us the moon landing, Woodstock, and Charles Manson.

(Here’s what happened in the previous chapter, and here is where the whole saga began.)

Lt. Perkins sat in the idling jeep. The headlights were on, revealing a bright swath of the sundry odd objects littering Paco’s yard -- a gutted refrigerator, the chassis of a ’53 Studebaker sedan on cinderblocks, sundry automobile and truck tires, a brewing vat connected to a propane tank, an overturned Dr Pepper machine.

Perkins took out a pack of Kools and lit one up. He didn’t really enjoy smoking, but he had taken it up in college as part of his over-all project of attempting to be one of the guys. Even after joining the air force (admittedly to avoid being drafted) and making it through flight school, he still wasn’t one of the guys, but he was however firmly addicted to cigarettes. He told himself he would quit if he made it through his enlistment alive.

He looked over at the Quonset hut. The door was still open, and Masterson and Pym were standing just inside, lit by the flickering light of a black-and-white television set.

Pym switched off the headlights and turned off the engine.

He sat back and gazed up at the enormous and starry sky, smudged here and there with dark clouds. How nice it would be to be out of the service, back home in Ohio, or even better, somewhere else. Anywhere, really. Anywhere but here.

A dark cloud passed overhead, and the air around Perkins grew darker.

He vaguely became aware of some change off to his right, and he turned his head in that direction.

A great circular patch of the earth was glowing a very faint green, the closest point of the circle being just a few feet away from the jeep.

Perkins got out of the jeep and walked around to the edge of the circle, which looked to be about sixty feet in diameter.

He dropped his cigarette to the dirt and ground it out with the sole of his shoe. Then he squatted down and reached over to touch the glowing emerald earth with his index finger.

The tip of his finger sizzled and he sprang up with a yelp, dancing around holding his wrist and whining to the uncaring desert and hills and to the thousands of stars that stared down blankly in the shifting spaces between the dark night-time clouds.

On the TV set in Paco’s room a flying saucer slowly emerged from an opening in a much larger flying saucer somewhere in space with a very large moon in the background.

Paco and Derek still sat on the rug, and Captain Pym and Colonel Masterson stood just inside the open door.

Pym re-lit his pipe, puffing more smoke into the room, but not appreciably contributing to that cloud which was so thick it didn’t seem able even to escape through the doorway.

“So you’ve neither seen nor heard anything unusual tonight,” he said. “Nothing out of the way or extraordinary.”

“That’s right, your honor,” said Paco. “Nothin’. Just been me and my compadre here all night, layin’ back, bein’ cool.”

“Watchin’ the telly,” said Derek.

“Right,” said Pym.

If anyone had asked Paco and Derek why they had lied to Captain Pym, who knows what they would have said? Perhaps they simply disliked authority. Perhaps they disliked Pym. Most likely they disliked authority and disliked Pym even more.

“You want a hit of the sacred weed, Admiral?” asked Paco, proffering what was left of the joint.

Perkins loomed up into in the doorway, holding his right wrist and looking more pale-faced than usual.

“C-colonel, C-captain --” he said.

“What is it?” said Pym.

Perkins held up his right index finger. Even in this dim light it looked exactly as if he had just dipped it into a restaurant deep-fryer turned up to the absolute highest setting. Tears glistened in his eyes.

“S-sir, sirs, sirs --”

“What the fuck, Lieutenant,” said Colonel Masterson.

Perkins turned and pointed outside with his burnt finger, which was so swollen that it almost looked like he was pointing with a hot dog.

Masterson and Pym came over to look, and Perkins stepped aside. He glanced at Paco and Derek, but saw no succor from that quarter, nor was he offered any at this juncture.

Standing awkwardly side by side, the burly Masterson and the slender Pym looked out at the yard and saw nothing they hadn’t seen when they entered onto this barren property.

“What the flying fuck is it, Perkins?” said Masterson, trying not to sound scared. “I don’t see a damn --”

Another dark heavy cloud approached and spread its shadow over the land, and as the darkness glided past the jeep the ground beyond it began to glow in its shade, a soft green that grew quickly brighter and into the shape of an enormous disc on the ragged ground.

The cloud passed, and with it its shadow, and the glowing circle faded away inch by inch and then was gone, like an emerald moon obscured by a cloud.

“What the fuck,” said Masterson.

“Well, I’m not surprised,” said Pym.

“What?” said Masterson.

“It -- it b-burnt my finger, sir,” said Perkins. “When -- when I t-touched it --”

“Of course it did,” said Pym. “Radiation.”

“R-radiation? Oh no Christ --”

“Don’t worry,” said Pym. He looked at his pipe. It had gone out again. “You’ll live. You’ll probably lose that finger but you’ll live.”

Immediately Perkins thought, through his pain: Medical discharge? Disability pension?

“Oh. Good,” he said, without stuttering.

Pym knocked his pipe against the door jamb, looked into the bowl to make sure it was empty, then dropped the pipe into the side pocket of his top coat.

“Tell me,” said Pym, “that place where you saw the army truck disappear -- is it far from here?”

Paco and Derek had returned their attention to the TV set, and to the black-and-white flying saucer flying through space and heading for what looked like the planet earth.

(Continued here. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find a complete listing of links to all other possible episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain, all contents vetted and approved by the Wasilla Chamber of Commerce.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 103: evasion

Is it a new, renewed, assertive Arnold Schnabel who has engineered a seemingly successful escape from the terminally mundane Mr. and Mrs. DeVore?

Let us rejoin our hero and his friends Daphne, Tommy, and Sister Mary Elizabeth at the corner of Perry and Washington streets, in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, NJ, on a warm early August evening in that faraway world of 1963…

We turned the corner, Tommy and Daphne right behind us, and finally we all slowed down a bit.

“That was brilliant, Arnold,” Sister Mary Elizabeth said to me. “Arnold told those people we’re going to a novena,” she said over her shoulder.

“Very well played,” said Tommy.

“Arnold’s brilliant,” said Daphne.

I saw that Tommy had divested himself of his cigarette, and that he was breathing heavily, but nevertheless he looked full of life, or as full of life as a sixty-five-year-old opium addict and heavy smoker is able look.

“Where are we going, anyway?” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Let’s go to the Ugly Mug,” said Daphne. “Okay with you, Tommy?”

“Excellent,” he said.

I said the Mug was fine with me too. It was only a couple of blocks from Elektra’s place. My master plan (and only now does it seem to me that I even had a master plan) was to have one beer, maybe two, and then excuse myself and head to Elektra’s before some unforeseen calamity or crisis occurred.

To be quite honest I looked forward to -- well, never mind.

But wait, it’s my memoir, go ahead.

Okay, I looked forward to -- well, on second thought I will leave my dear reader to guess what I looked forward to, or, if he wishes, he may jump ahead to the following Saturday -- it should only be a thousand pages away at the rate I’m going -- and there he may read what I confessed to Father Reilly, provided of course I did not lie through my teeth to that good cleric, even if only by omission.

We walked along the busy sidewalk. The starkly sunlit families of the damned who had streamed by me earlier that day as I sat racked with nausea on that wooden bench in front of the church had now been replaced with mellowed, soft-voiced vacationers smelling of perfume and Old Spice after-shave, their exhausted and sunbaked children walking silently and obediently along with them, as children supposedly ought to.

We came to Smith’s Book Shoppe, in which I had bought my still unfinished paperback of The Waste Land, and in the indented window area of which I had given Jesus a light a week or so ago. Daphne, still holding Tommy’s arm and now pulling him along, glided behind us and over to the window to examine the books on display in the bestseller section. Sister Mary Elizabeth and I stopped to give Daphne time, and I became aware that the sister still held her arm in mine.

She looked up at me again.

“Do you think I’m terrible?”

“No,” I said.

“I’ll get in so much trouble if I go back to the convent,” she said. “What should I do?”

“Don’t go back,” I said, although God knows who I thought I was giving her advice.

“But then what will I do?”

Tommy had disengaged his arm from Daphne’s and he took out a gold cigarette case. He clicked it open and offered it to Daphne, but she shook her head. I think she was reading the copy on the displayed back cover of one of the best-sellers.

Sister Mary Elizabeth disengaged her arm from mine and tugged on my short sleeve; I hadn’t answered her question.

“What have you been doing?" I asked. "I mean as a nun?”

“Teaching third grade.”

“There you go,” I said. “Be a school teacher.”

“A noble profession,” said Tommy. “Cigarette, Arnold? Or are you still abstaining?”

“Still abstaining, I guess,” I said, although I practically had to grab my right hand with my left to keep it from snatching up not only one cigarette but three or four for good measure preparatory to smoking them all simultaneously.

“Sister?” offered Tommy.

“Oh, no,” she said. “I’d better not.”

The Group,” said Daphne, reading the title of one of the bestsellers. “I wonder if that’s any good?”

“Oh, no, it’s them,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth, and I saw them too, turning onto Washington down the block, the dreaded DeVores. “Daphne, come on,” said Sister Mary E., “it’s those people.”

“Oh no,” said Daphne, and we all took off at speed toward the next corner, Tommy walking so fast that he didn’t even try to light the cigarette he had taken out.

“What should we do?” asked Sister Mary Elizabeth.

The Ugly Mug was right up the next block at Decatur, but if we went there now the DeVores would follow us in, as sure as night follows the day.

“Head on to the church,” I said.

“The church?”

“It’s our only chance,” I said.

Fortunately we just caught the green light at Jackson Street and we hurried on up the block, without looking back and without speaking, as if conserving our breath. We hesitated at Decatur Street, bouncing on our heels waiting for a red light to change, and when it did we sprinted across. At the end of this block was the church.

“Arnold,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth, “this is insane.”

“Yes,” I said. “I know.”

We reached the steps of the church and I led the way up. Down Washington Street I saw the DeVores crossing Decatur Street, steadfastly on our trail.

“Now what?” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“Into the church,” I said.

“Arnold!” she said. “We can’t just go into the church like this.”

“Of course we can,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Daphne. “What’s the big deal.”

Tommy merely breathed heavily.

“It’s sacrilegious,” said Sister Mary Elizabeth.

“If you let those bores capture you again then you’ll really know the meaning of sacrilege,” said Daphne. “Now come on.”

She stepped forward, and I opened the great wooden door for her. She went in, followed by Tommy and the sister and then myself.

In the dark restful foyer with its flickering candles and its smell of cool marble and holy water we convened, looking at each other in a circle.

“What do we do now?” whispered Sister Mary E.

“Follow me,” I said.

We went into the nave. No service was in progress, and the hours of confession were over for the day. Three or four people sat or kneeled scattered in the pews, praying, or perhaps merely enjoying the shadowed silence and a respite from the hurly-burly of the world outside. We all genuflected, even Daphne, and then I led our little band down the aisle, walking quietly but not slowly. I made a right at the tabernacle, went down the side steps and through the hall, came to the side door, and opened it. I went through, holding the door for my friends, and we came out onto the sidewalk on Ocean Street.

“Well done again, Arnold,” said Tommy.

“Yeah, smooth,” said Daphne.

“Now what?” said Mary Elizabeth. “Do we double around and go back to this Ugly Mug place?”

I looked around.

“No,” I said. “It’s a popular place. They might look there.” I pointed across the Acme parking lot, to the brown tavern with the dark slate roof near the railroad terminal.

“We’ll go there,” I said. “To Pete’s.”

“Pete’s?” said Daphne. “How exciting. I’ve never been there. Isn’t it a Negro bar?”

“Yes,” I said. “Let’s hurry.”

(Go here for our next thrilling chapter. Please check out the right hand side of this page for a purportedly up-to-date listing of links to many other fine episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, third-place prize-winner of the Hockey Moms of America Inspiring Memoir Award.)

Jackie Wilson, baby: work out!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 97: magnificent

The Seven (Brad Dexter third from right)

Larry Winchester now suddenly brings us back to a couple of characters we haven’t seen in a while: Paco, the Native American brujo, and Derek, the somewhat debauched English rock musician.

The time: a night in early September, 1969.

The place, a Quonset hut on the outskirts of an Indian reservation, not too far away from a town called Disdain

(A passing familiarity with our previous chapter -- and come to think of it the chapter before that -- will perhaps make this episode slightly less incomprehensible.)

Paco and Derek sat on the rug, staring at the old Philco black-and-white on a metal milk crate. The shack was as clouded as a cat’s eye marble, with gentle striations of smoke undulating from the floor to the ceiling. The only illumination was what flickered from the television set along with a faint glow of starlight from the two open windows.

Derek passed a fat joint to Paco.

“Who is that fuckin’ geezer, Chief?”

Paco took a long toke, held it in for a good ten seconds, and then let it out in a great whoosh that briefly disturbed the all-pervasive clouds of smoke and then was quickly absorbed by them.

“Who?” he asked.

“That fuckin’ bloke,” said Derek, and he pointed at the TV.

Brad Dexter grimaced nervously in close-up on the screen.

“Oh, okay. Just askin’,” said Brad.

And Brad followed Frank over to the ramp.

“He’s, uh, the casino manager,” said Paco. “I think --”

He took another toke.

“Nah,” said Derek, “I mean like in real life --”

He reached over and took the joint from Paco’s fingers.

“Oh, yeah,” said Paco. He let the smoke out slowly. “He’s that guy, you know -- the fuckin’ guy in that movie, the one about the fuckin’ seven guys --”

“The seven dwarves?”

Derek took a series of small but efficient tokes.

“No, the fuckin’ gunslingers -- Magnificent --”

Seven?” said Derek, in between tokes.

“Right,” said Paco.

“What about it?” asked Derek.

“What about what?” said Paco.

Derek paused, blinking, and then slowly let it all out.

“What about the movie?” he asked.

“The movie,” said Paco.

“Magnificent,” said Derek.

“Magnificent what?” said Paco.

“Seven, man.”

“Oh, right,” said Paco. “That dude in the movie we’re watching. He was in The Magnificent Seven.”

“Oh,” said Derek, staring at the TV. A commercial had come on. For Chesterfields. “That fuckin’ guy. I don’t know his name.”

“What the fuck was it?” asked Paco.

“Rod Cameron?” said Derek.

“No,” said Paco.

“Um. Brock Peters?”

“Fuck no.”

“Lex Barker?” said Derek.

“No, stop it,” said Paco. “Pass me the fuckin’ joint.”

“Sure, Chief,” and he did. “Biff McGuire?”

“Seriously, man,” said Paco, and he took another big toke, “stop it --”

Someone knocked on the door.

“Shit,” said Paco.

Whoever it was knocked again.

“Come in,” said Paco, still holding it in.

The door opened. Captain Pym stood in the doorway, and behind him and to his left stood Colonel Masterson.

“The fuckin’ cavalry,” said Derek. “Oy, mate, the seventh guy in The Magnificent Seven -- you know, the one who thought the villagers had all this gold and shit --”

“Brad Dexter?” said Pym.

“Thank you,” said Derek.

Paco finally let out his lungful, and nodded.

“Brad fuckin’ Dexter,” he said.

(Go here for our next fabulous chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find an allegedly up-to-date listing of links to all other extant episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain, all contents approved by the Wasilla Bureau of Objectionable Literature.)

The Ronettes: you, baby --