Thursday, November 27, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 112: buddies

(a very special Thanksgiving edition)

In our previous episode of this critically acclaimed (“If the
Bible weren’t already my Bible, this book would be my Bible.” -- George Will) memoir, our intrepid hero Arnold Schnabel managed, after an astral flight into space, to return safely to his own body and to the boudoir of his inamorata Elektra, on the second floor of a charming Victorian house on Jackson Street, in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey, on an August evening in 1963...

“So how was your day?” she asked me, touching my chest.

Well, not counting the previous twenty-five minutes, which Elektra already knew about, so far today I had quit smoking, gone to confession and confessed that which I had just done again, almost collapsed from tobacco deprivation, walked and talked with Jesus, started work on a screenplay with Larry Winchester, fallen from a second-floor window while trying to escape Miss Evans but had been saved through the intercession of my friend Jesus, I had gone swimming with Daphne and been struck by lightning, I had then visited God’s mansion in the company of His son my friend, I had tea with Mrs. Biddle on a plantation in the Philippines in 1932 and had at least indirectly contributed to the sudden death of her husband, I had returned to the present to find myself pursued relentlessly by Miss Evans and Mr. and Mrs. Devore, I had had a somber colloquy with my disgraced confessor Father Reilly, during which Jesus made yet another appearance, and I had flown to an enormous flying saucer between the Earth and the Moon where I had only barely managed to resist the blandishments of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack.

“It was an interesting day,” I said.

“Do you want a cigarette?”

She had turned on her back and was reaching for her Marlboros on the night table.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I’ve decided to quit.”

“You’re kidding me.”

I told her I wasn’t, and hadn’t had a cigarette since that monumental one first thing that morning which had instigated my abstinential decision. I must pause for a moment now as I admire what is perhaps the worst sentence I have ever committed to paper. And now, onward:

Holding the pack of cigarettes, she stared at me for a moment, as if to make sure I was serious. Then she sat up, holding the sheet chastely to her bosom with one hand, and tossed the cigarettes into a waste basket on the other side of the night table.

“Good,” she said. “A stupid habit, and I’m quitting too. Now let’s go down to the Mug and get a couple of burgers before I have a nicotine fit.”

“Okay. But listen --”


“We might be -- accosted.”

“Accosted? Who by?”

“Well --”

“By that crazy Evans woman?”

“Yes. But also by that couple the DeVores, the ones who were on my aunts’ porch last night?”

“What, they’re obsessed with you too?”

“So it seems.”

“Well, thanks for the warning. Now let’s get dressed, I’m starving.”

And all the miracles I had experienced that day paled in comparison to that of her rolling out of bed in the glow from the streetlight and reaching down to find her underwear on the rug.

She put the Mexican-seeming dress back on, and she allowed her hair to fall freely down around her shoulders.

When we came out to the living room Elektra asked Gypsy Dave if he wanted to come with us, and he said he might join us later, but right now he was just digging the music, which was jazz music that sounded like walking through dark city streets at night but not being afraid and not caring if the morning ever came.

We went down the back stairs and around the front, and Elektra said she wanted to go into the shop to get some money out of the register. I told her she didn’t need any money, but she pointed out that I wasn’t working, and went on in, leaving me on the pavement. The shop had five or six browsing vacationers in it now as well as Rocket Man and Fairchild. When Elektra got back behind the counter a large lady with a small man in tow asked her a question, and Elektra took a tray of bracelets out and laid them on the counter top.

I put my hands in my shorts pockets and turned away from the window, gazing down Jackson toward the beach and the just visible dark line of the ocean. Normally this would be another ideal time for a cigarette, a waiting time. And how often, in the early days of my addiction, had I stood or sat around doing absolutely nothing and getting paid for it by the U.S. Army while I filled the time with the burning and inhaling of those lovely tubes of cancerous dried weed while talking nonsense with my fellow GIs. In retrospect I wonder how we won the war when we seemed to spend the vast majority of our time smoking and chatting. Maybe the only reason we won was simply because there were more of us than there were of the Germans.

“Or maybe God really was on your side,” he said.

He had apparently just crossed the corner of Carpenter's Lane and come up the pavement behind me. Of course he was smoking. And why shouldn’t he, I thought, he didn’t have to worry about cancer or emphysema.

“Was He?” I asked.

“My father doesn’t choose sides, Arnold. That wouldn’t be fair.”

“So men have to fight it out all on their own,” I said.

“Yeah, I’m afraid so. You’d think that men would have learned by now that praying for God’s assistance or blessing in their battles doesn’t have any effect whatsoever either way.”

“Well, I think it makes them feel better, though, even if the evidence doesn’t back up the uh --”

“The efficacy of prayer?”

“Yes,” I said.

He gazed into the shop window.

“She’s really lovely,” he said.

Elektra was holding a necklace up to her neck, showing it to the lady, the necklace glittering against her tan skin.

“Yes, sir,” he said, his arms folded, staring in at the window, tapping his cigarette with one finger.

“Yeah,” I said. Then, I think wanting to forestall him from making any more comments about Elektra, I said, “How did it go with Father Reilly?”

“Oh. Him. I’m afraid he has a long way to go, Arnold. A long way.”

“Did you talk to him?”

“What? No. No, he’s not ready for that, if he ever will be. No.”

“So you just sat there?”

“Just sat there, yes.”

“Is he okay?”

He looked at me.

“Is he ‘okay’?” he repeated.

“Yeah, I mean --”

“Oh, he’ll be all right. Or he won’t be.”

“Well, still --”

“I know, I know, I’m being cold. But, Arnold, there’s a couple of billion people on this planet, okay? Most of them would love to have Father Reilly’s problems.”

“Well, still --”

“Right,” he said. “Look, Saint Arnold, while you’ve been lying in bed having a high old time with her --” he pointed his cigarette at Elektra, who was handing a necklace to Rocket Man, “I’ve been sitting watching our good Father Reilly gnashing his teeth and pulling his hair and generally acting as boring as humanly possible, which is saying a lot, so get off your high horse. All right, it looks like Elektra has made her sale, so excuse me but I’m going to make like a leaf and blow. Good luck, buddy, and don’t drink so much tonight.”

“I’ll try,” I said.


He sauntered up Jackson in the direction of the beach, merging with the other pedestrians coming and going into and out of the tree-dappled light of the streetlamps.

Elektra came out of the shop and put her arm in mine.

“Who was that guy?” she said, as we started down the sidewalk.

“Um, guy?”

“That guy you were talking to. That beach bum-looking guy.”

“Kind of long hair, needs a shave?” I said.

“Were you talking to any other guy, you nut?”

“Um, no,” I said.

We were crossing Carpenter's Lane. Another small block to the Ugly Mug.

“Friend of yours?”

“Um, just from around town,” I said.

I was trying not to lie blatantly, while still somehow not actually telling her that I had just been chatting with my friend the son of God.

“So what’s his name?”

“Arnie!” bellowed a commanding voice behind me, and I nearly jumped out of my Keds.

I turned, and there was Larry Winchester coming up Jackson Street.

He looked magnificent in khakis and a white short-sleeved sport-shirt and sandals, and I thanked Jesus for allowing him to appear just then, that is if Jesus had had anything to do with it.

(Go here for our next heroic adventure. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other recovered episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, soon to be a major Broadway musical starring Dick Powell and Tallulah Bankhead, book by John O'Hara, songs by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, choreography by Gene Kelly, produced and personally directed by Larry Winchester.)

Rod the Mod --

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 106: bumpy

We return to Larry Winchester’s masterpiece, in medias res, with Daphne’s father “Mac” MacNamara accusing Frank of some very coldblooded machinations as the gang all sip their cocktails in the flying saucer as it hurtles through space.

(A passing familiarity with our previous episode will make this one slightly less incomprehensible, if no less preposterous.)

“I wonder what your next step was going to be, Frank? The Home Office had already approved my basic plan, so you would have to do something cute, something that would not only get rid of Daphne and Dick and Harvey, but that would make the whole idea of giving humans autonomy look like a mistake -- maybe something involving that little worm Pym?”

Dick, who was in the midst of raising his martini to his lips, paused.

“Pym?” he said. “Al Pym?”

“Yeah,” said Mac. “One of Frankie boy’s little pet projects. He’s been feeding subliminal suggestions to that weasel and that goofy Admiral Hackington for years now. I guess you know Hackington killed Admiral Quigley.”

“Well, no,” said Dick, “I mean, I, uh, had my suspicions, but --”

“Oh, yeah,” said Mac, “Frankie boy’s slick all right.”

“Hey, Mac,” said Frank, refilling his own martini glass and spilling some more gin over the counter, “guess what? Real life is not a Quinn Martin Production, and you are full of shit.”

Brad stubbed out his cigar, got up with his empty glass and headed for the bar.

“You’re the one’s full of shit, Frank.”

“Clam the fuck up, Brad.”

“No, you clam the fuck up, motherfucker. And let me get some of that gin before you hog it all.”

Brad shoved Frank aside, Frank stumbled, trying to keep his drink from spilling.

“Asswipe,” he muttered, but not too loudly, as Brad was much bigger than he.

Brad poured himself a drink, properly using a long cocktail spoon to prevent the ice cubes from plopping into his glass.

“I been eatin’ your shit for over two thousand years now, Frank, and I’ve had it.”

He took a drink, savored it, put the glass down on the counter and took out a pack of Old Golds.

He stared at the pack.

“Look at this shit, I just finished a cigar and now I’m grabbing a cigarette. This is the nerves I got from working this job.”

He shook one out, took out his gold-plated lighter, and lit up.

“Candy-ass,” muttered Frank.

Mac shook his head, took his drink back over to the command console and sat down.

Brad slowly exhaled cigarette smoke, staring at Frank.

“I heard what you said to Henry when you came in the casino tonight, Frank, and I quote: ‘These humans get outa line, don’t be afraid to use your piece. They ain’t gonna be around too long anyhow.’ End quote. I heard you, Frank. That’s your problem -- no, excuse me, that’s one of your fucking problems -- you got a big fuckin’ mouth, Frank.”

He picked up his martini, took another drink.

Back in Paco’s little tin house, watching this go down on the little black-and-white Philco, Derek said, “Fuckin’ A, man.”

“Right on, Brad,” said Paco, and he passed the joint to Derek.

Frank, sweating now, had returned to his seat. He put his drink down and took out his gold cigarette case, clicked it open, took out a cigarette, snapped the case shut and tapped the cigarette on its lid.

“Oh, by the way, Frank,” said Brad. “Don’t even worry about firing me, ‘cause I quit. Salut.

Frank finally got tired of tapping his cigarette, and lit it up with his thin gold lighter. Everyone was looking at him. Even Buddy turned away from his controls for a moment and stared at him.

“Okay,” said Frank. “So I am a bad man. So I am a very bad man. So I was possibly -- and I stress the whatchamacallit adjective ‘possibly’ --”

“Adverb,” said Brad.

“Whatever. Possibly I might have found it necessary to bump off these admittedly very resourceful and talented people here and run the the Earth operation my way -- which, if you will grant me, for argument’s sake, is undoubtedly in fact the right fuckin’ way -- grant all that. Granted, let’s say. Okay. But. Answer me this, Mister MacNamara: just what the fuck do you intend to do now? You’ve fuckin’ hijacked a government saucer, kidnapped me, who by the way is still in command of this Earth operation, plus this jamoke --” he indicated Brad with his cigarette. “Just what the fuck you think you’re gonna do now?”

Buddy checked a gauge and flicked a switch.

A high-pitched noise came from somewhere.

“Two minutes till we engage the Woofer, Major!”

“Okay,” said Mr. MacNamara, swiveling around in his seat to face the console. “Everybody grab a chair and fasten your seatbelts. This part of the ride gets bumpy sometimes.”

“If you ask me,” said Daphne, “this ride has already gotten a bit bumpy.”

The shrieking noise continued as Dick took the seat to Daphne’s right, one empty seat away from Frank, and Brad finished his drink and came over and sat to Frank’s right.

Everyone started to buckle up.

(Continued right here. Please look to the right hand side of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, a Quinn Martin Production.)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Arnold's Olney

Thanks to recently declassified KGB files, we present this Russian spy satellite photo of the Olney of Philadelphia’s beloved “Brakeman Poet” Arnold Schnabel, circa 1963. (Please click on the photograph for a larger view.)

The small rowhome Arnold shared with his mother for many years still stands where it stood then, down near the lower right, at the corner of B Street and W. Nedro Avenue, across the street from the foreboding stacks of the (now sadly demolished) Heintz metalworks factory.

Fisher Park, the site of Arnold’s famous poems “Dead Man’s Hill” and "In Fisher Park", remains much as it was in Arnold’s day, over to the left of our photograph. It was within this leafy urban paradise, on the concrete path descending from the corner of 5th and Spencer, that the three lovely young ladies who became known as the Green Parrot Mob committed the crime that would lead to their downfall and incarceration at the state women's prison in Muncy.
Across from the park on the northeast corner of 5th and Champlost were (and still are) the offices of the Olney Times, the venerable publication in which Arnold published a poem a week for over thirty years.

A block north, the large dark blotch directly across 5th Street from Fisher Park would be the Fern Rock Theatre (since converted into a food market), where Arnold saw countless Jerry Lewis and Steve Reeves movies on Saturday matinées.

Moving up 5th Street, between Spencer and Godfrey, on the right side, the entire block (a block immortalized by, among many other of Arnold's poems, the heart-wrenching "May Procession") comprises St. Helena’s parochial school, the convent, St. Helena’s church, and its rectory. For many years Arnold served as an usher at St. Helena’s, and was also active in the parish’s Catholic Youth Organization and the local chapter of the Knights of Columbus.

(Click here for Part 112 of Railroad Train to Heaven, and kindly go here for our previous installment. A complete listing of links to all other available chapters can be found on the right hand side of this page, as well as to many of Arnold’s classic poems. Send us an e-mail if you are interested in joining the upcoming holiday walking tour of Arnold's Olney, sponsored by the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia, PA.)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 111: flight

Our previous episode of this Sunoco Award-nominated memoir found our hero Arnold Schnabel -- relentlessly pursued by the passionate novelist Gertrude Evans and the profoundly boring Mr. and Mrs. DeVore -- finally safe in the boudoir of his inamorata, the bohemian Elektra.

Place: the second floor of a charming Victorian house on Jackson Street, in the seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey.

Time: a warm August evening on a faraway planet called 1963.

“I think I’m going to have to shut my eyes for just five minutes, lover. Okay? But don’t let me sleep too long.”

“Sure,” I said.

She lay on her side, facing me. The lights were all off in the room but I could see by the pale glow from the streetlamp outside that her eyes were closed, her mouth slightly open, her loosely clenched hand touching her chin. She smelled like hot cocoa with whipped cream. I laid my head back with my right arm outspread over the top of her head with its cloud of dark hair.

I closed my eyes, feeling completely at ease with myself and the universe, sinking deep into a state of utter relaxation, feeling as if all the cares and terrors of my forty-two years were melting away from me, and then I felt myself rising up and out of my body.

I was now an invisible sprite the size of a child’s marble, looking down at myself and Elektra, the both of us with our eyes closed and, apparently, not breathing. Understandably alarmed, I flew closer, to just about a foot over our faces. I held very still, and then I saw and felt that we both were indeed breathing but at a vastly decelerated rate.

I flew up and over to one of Elektra’s two windows that look out over Jackson Street. I saw that the translucent white curtains billowed inward, still and unmoving as if in a photograph, but by hovering closer and concentrating my vision I saw that indeed the curtains were moving, but ever so gradually, as in a slow-motion movie scene. I flew to the middle of the window and looked down through the branches of the elm tree outside to the street and the sidewalks below.

People walked on the pavements, cars drove in the street, but they all stood almost but not quite absolutely still -- alive, moving, but at perhaps one one-hundredth of normal speed.

And instead of the normal Saturday night cacophony of voices and music and automobile engines there was only a slow quiet rolling humming, like the sound of a long railroad train going around a mountainside ten miles away across rolling countryside.

The air felt neither warm nor cool, and instead of the rich warm evening smell of the ocean and the trees and gardens I smelled only something like that of white bread baking in a far kitchen of a house.

I glanced back once at myself and Elektra, then flew out the window and up into the evening sky. I turned and looked down as I continued to fly up, watching the town and its lights and its people shrink smaller and smaller. Finally I could see the whole cape, and glancing northward I saw the entire Jersey coast sparkling along the dark breast of the ocean.

It occurred to me that God had now granted me something like immortality. I was outside time and yet still within it; outside of my body but free to go anywhere I liked.

Just for the heck of it I flew higher and higher, watching New Jersey’s tiny cropped tail grow smaller and smaller till finally it was merely a smudge on the edge of the darkening continent of North America, and then at last I could see the entire globe in all its rich colors and darknesses, and I looked upward, saw the Moon up there and decided I’d head out into space.

Now the Moon grew rapidly larger and larger as I hurled forward at thousands of miles an hour through empty space, and I suddenly felt very odd, or odder, and then I saw this vast flying saucer up ahead, with the great cratered and shining Moon looming up beyond it.

Well, at this point nothing was going to surprise me, I needn’t tell you.

I slowed down as I approached the spaceship, which I would say was about a mile in diameter, perhaps a bit more. There were portholes placed at regular intervals around the upper rim of the saucer, so I flew up to one. I looked through the window, and I saw what looked like a big nightclub room. At a large round table near the stage (a singer and band were performing) I could just make out Frank Sinatra, Joey, Dean Martin, Sammy, some other men who seemed familiar if unnameable.

For some reason none of this surprised me either.

So far I hadn’t attempted to fly through any solid objects, but this seemed like a good time and place to give it a go. What was the worse that could happen?

I flew directly at the window, and fortunately (I suppose) I was able to pass right through it without shattering either the glass or my own sprite-self.

I coasted down next to the table and suddenly everyone turned and looked at me.

“What the f--k!” said Frank.

I looked down at myself. I was in my body again. Fortunately I was dressed. I don’t know how that worked, but I was wearing the same clothes I’d been wearing before undressing.

“Well what do you know?” said Dean, who was sitting to Frank’s right.

“I didn’t think he could do it,” said Joey.

I should mention that all these guys were wearing stylish shiny suits, with thin ties and flashing cufflinks. I felt awkward in my bermudas, polo shirt, and Keds with no socks.

Frank stood up, and offered his hand.

I shook it. It felt like a normal hand, albeit a with a stronger than average clasp.

“I’m really glad you could make it, Arnold,” he said.

“Well, I’m not so sure I’m glad,” I said, or found myself saying. Normally I’m not so honest.

“I can see how you might find this all a little -- perturbing?”

“Yeah,” I said.

I’ll say this for this group: they were very polite; the whole table had stood up.

“Hello, Arnold,” said this one familiar guy. He had what sounded like an English accent. “Glad you could make it. I’ve heard so much about you. My name’s Peter, by the way.”

Right, Peter Lawford.

“Well, don’t believe everything, Mr. Lawford,” I said, lamely.

“Peter,” he said. “Call me Peter, Arnold. We’re practically the same age. In human years.”

“Come sit down, Arnold,” said Frank.

“Well, I don’t know,” I said.

“Like you got somewhere to go?” he said. “Come on, have a drink.” He waved to a passing waiter, who looked like Wally Cox or Arnold Stang, one of those guys. “Wally, bring Mr. Schnabel a chair. A chair and a Manhattan, make it a double -- on the double, ha.”

I held up my hand.

“Wait, Mr. Sinatra,” I said, “I really appreciate it, but I have to be honest with you. I think I’d rather go back to the Earth right now.”

“You can go back later,” he said.

I’ll admit I hesitated.

“Well --”

The singer, who I believe was Johnny Ray, started singing that song about walking in the rain.

“Come on,” said Frank.

Wally was already there with a chair, sliding it in between where Joey and this other guy had been sitting, I think it was Richard Conte.

But I don't know, sometimes you just have to say no.

“Sorry, Mr. Sinatra --” I said.

“Frank,” he said.

“Sorry, Frank, but I really think I want to go back now.”

Something about this set-up bugged me. And besides, already I was missing the world. My world. My little world, with its humble sights and smells. And I missed the smell and warmth of Elektra.

“Wait, Arnold --” said Frank.

“Sorry,” I said again.

And up I went, up through the porthole and out into space, but this time towards planet Earth, which very quickly grew from the size of a beachball into an enormous swirling and living world, suddenly the odd feeling I'd gotten on the way up slipped away from me like a comet's tail and down I went, down and down, to the now darker eastern seaboard of North America, down to the southern tip of New Jersey, down to Cape May, the streets and the houses growing bigger, the lights growing brighter, I found Jackson Street below me there and zeroed in on Elektra’s house, came down to the window I had just flown out of, flew back in, over to myself and Elektra, and back into me.

I opened my eyes.

Jazz music floated in from the other room, and through the open windows came the sounds of people’s voices, the thrumming of their automobiles.

The air was warm and humid. Elektra’s body was warm, and slightly moist. She smelled like warm marshmallows.

“Mmmm,” she said. “Did you sleep?”

“Yes,” I said.

(Go here for our next, very special installment. And please look to the right hand side of this page to find a listing of links to all other possible episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, as featured on The Heinz Playhouse, starring Ralph Meeker and Carolyn Jones.)

Barbara: Dis quand reviendras-tu?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Arnold's Cape May

As a service to our readers we present the above aerial photo of Arnold Schnabel’s Cape May, NJ, circa 1963, taken by a Russian spy satellite.

Yes, there’s Arnold’s aunts’ house, just a couple of doors down North Street from Perry, on the north side. That’s Mrs. Biddle’s residence down on the next corner.

On the north side of Washington, a few doors up from Perry, is the book shop where Arnold bought his paperback copy of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Farther up Washington toward Jackson is the cigar shop with the cranky proprietor, where Arnold's cousin Kevin buys his used comic books, and where Arnold often bought his Pall Malls, until he quit smoking suddenly one day.

Going farther up Washington, moving quickly past the Ugly Mug and crossing Decatur, we stroll up the block to Our Lady Star of the Sea Church (R.C.) on the northwest corner by Ocean Street. Across the Acme parking lot up there is the popular Pete’s Tavern.

Turning back down Washington Street, going by the Cape Coffee Shoppe and turning down Jackson Street and past that charming caravanserai the Pilot House, we come, just off the southwest corner of Carpenter's Lane, to the charming Victorian which houses Elektra’s jewelry shop and the second-floor apartment she shares with her friends.

That’s the beach and the Atlantic Ocean down at the bottom.

(Go here for Part 111 of Arnold's memoirs or here for our previous installment. And please check the right hand side of this page for up-to-date listings of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel's Ballantine Ale Award-winning memoir Railroad Train to Heaven, as featured on The Kraft Television Theatre, starring Lee Marvin and Pier Angeli, and to many of his most beloved poems, as featured on the long-playing album Burl Ives Sings Arnold Schnabel!, musical settings by Leonard Bernstein, featuring the Pete Condoli Combo, with back-up vocal stylings by The Blossoms, produced by Shel Talmy, available both in stereo and mono, to be presented this holiday season for a limited run at the Pantages Theatre on Broadway, with the June Taylor Dancers and the Mabel Beaton Marionettes and very special guest star Mr. Jackie Gleason, directed by Charles Laughton, a Max Reinhardt presentation in association with Jack Webb, made possible by the Clorox Bleach Foundation and the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.)

Monday, November 17, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 105: staccato

In our previous chapter, Daphne’s extra-terrestrial father -- "Mac" MacNamara -- began to present our heroes (and our not-quite heroes Frank and Brad) his apologia pro vita sua.

Scene: the bridge of one of the beautiful new 1969 flying saucers -- the ones with the mahogany trim and built-in chrome ashtrays -- in an alternate dimension somewhere between the Earth and the Moon. Next stop: a town called Disdain…

Mac ignored this last remark.

Dick came up from the refrigerator with a can of Pabst, turned and picked up the two fresh martinis with the splayed fingers of his left hand.

“Sorry, Mac,” he said. “Excuse me.”

“Not at all, Dick. I think I’ll just have one more splash myself before I have to take the wheel again.”

Dick went past Mr. MacNamara with the drinks, and Mac reached for the bottle of Cutty.

“I wanted to be in the casino to meet you all,” he said, pouring his splash, well, two splashes. “I begged the Home Office to send me out.”

He re-capped the bottle, picked up his glass, swirled the scotch while Dick handed the beer to Harvey and a martini to Daphne, who was half-sitting in Dick’s vacated seat. She started to get up but Dick waved her down.

Mac went on:

“I was afraid of what’d happen with this mook in charge.” Mac gestured toward Frank with his glass. Frank shrugged, and Mac paused, taking a drink.

“But they wouldn’t let me go,” he said. “Said I was too emotionally involved.”

“Q. E. fucking D.,” said Frank.

“But I knew I had to come,” said Mac. “Something didn’t smell right. Especially you, Frank. You didn’t smell right.”

“Ah, dry up.”

“But --” said Daphne, “how did you get back, Papa?”

Buddy answered her question while flicking a couple of switches:

“We hijacked this damn saucer is how we got here.”

“Oh my God,” said Daphne, “look at you two!”

“And ain’t it a beauty,” said Buddy. “I been working on this baby personally for the past five years. State of the art. Travels like a shot through four different dimensions. Man, I couldn’t wait to get this scooter on the road.”

“Buddy,” asked Daphne, “if you don’t mind my asking -- are you human?”

“Sure am, miss,” said Buddy, turning one of several small wheels just a smidgeon back and then forth. “Y’know, I first met the Major back in ’42, when he recruited me for the OSS. Now normally I fuckin’ hated officers, y’know? But the Major was different, he was a Joe. Only later did I realize how different he was. Anyways, we went through the war together, and I been with him ever since on the QT. Everybody thought I was just an easygoing mechanic in Cape May, New Jersey, who liked to go off on fishing trips whenever he felt like it. But actually I was off with the Major someplace helpin’ him out while he headed off some war or revolution in some goddam exotic clime or other.”

“Couldn’t have done it without you, Buddy,” said Mac.

“And so you went back to this other planet with him?” asked Daphne.

“What the hell,” said Buddy. “It was innerestin’. Although I gotta say it’ll be nice to get back to the Earth, get a real hot dog, a real cheesesteak -- a real dame -- hoo boy, just wait’ll I get my hands on a hot --”

“All right, Buddy --” said Mac.

“Sorry, Major.”

“Anyway,” Mac went on, “the truth is, Francis Albert here never wanted to bring you people in on the deal. I don’t know what he told you, but I’ll lay eight-to-five he offered you what looked like one sweet package all tied up with a pink ribbon.”

“I offered ‘em what you wanted to give ‘em all along,” said Frank, “-- power.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet you did,” said Mac. “But who would be the power behind the power, Frank?”

“Hey,” said Frank, “with the Sailor knocked off, it’s my job to, to oversee operations --”

“And for how long have you been trying to get the Sailor out of the way, Frank?”

“What? What?” said Frank. “The sailor and me, we go back, way back -- why, we were makin’ our bones on the Alpha Centauri caper when you were in short pants, pal. I’d’ve given my right arm for that little guy. On my mother’s grave. On all five of my mothers’ graves, may they rest in --”

“No kidding,” said Mac. “Then why’d you arrange for Hans Grupler to get involved in that heroin deal in Saigon?”


“Just when you knew Dick and Daphne would be there.”

“Hey,” said Frank, getting up off his seat, and taking a step toward Mac, who was leaning back against the bar, “it’s called coincidence, Mac.” He held up his empty glass. “Hey, Mac, ya mind if I --”

“Coincidence,” said Mac. “Like it was a coincidence that the Sailor left the ramp down on his saucer.”

Not bothering to pick up Brad’s empty glass, Frank took another couple of steps toward Mac and the bar.

“Hey, look,” he said, “do not blame me for the fuckin’ Sailor’s mistake. I told him once I told him five hundred fuckin’ thousand times, do not leave the fuckin’ ramp down. I’m just gonna help myself here, okay, Mac?”

Mac stepped away from the bar, watching Frank closely. Keeping his hands chest-high, Frank sidled past Mac to the bar.

“I knew the Sailor, too,” said Mac, as Frank poured the rest of the Gordon’s into the cocktail shaker without bothering to add more ice. “And the Sailor might’ve been a little screwy but he did not make rookie mistakes like that one. The Sailor took me down my first trip to the Earth, Frank. And the first thing he told me was, ‘Do not ever leave the ramp down.’”

Frank poured the slightly chilled gin into his glass, holding back the ice with a finger, spilling gin onto the counter.

“Hey,” he said, “everybody has their off-days, even the Sailor --”

“Especially,” said Mac, “when somebody else uses remote control to lower the ramp so somebody who doesn’t belong on a saucer can get on a saucer.”

Frank took a gulp of gin, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Fantasy,” he said. “The merest and wildest fantasy.”

“But your plan hit a little snag, didn’t it, Frank? ‘Cause Grupler and Marlene bumped off the Sailor and his buddies, but they didn’t finish the job. They didn’t bump off these three here. You’d underestimated these kids, Frank.”

“You’re fuckin’ nuts, man. You been watching too much earthling TV back home. Too much M Squad, fuckin' Johnny Staccato --”

(Go here for our next thrilling chapter. And please feel free to consult the right hand side of this page where you will find an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, as featured on The AIG Amazing Adult Fantasy Playhouse, hosted by Walter Pidgeon and starring Edward Arnold, Joel McRae and Frances Farmer.)

Junior Wells and Buddy Guy, unfiltered:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven,”, Part 110: not wasted

Let us now rejoin Arnold Schnabel as, following a colloquy with the conflicted Father Reilly, our hero warily leaves the sacristy of Our Lady Star of the Sea Church (R.C.) in Cape May, New Jersey, on a sultry evening in early August, 1963:

My very next decision would have to be: side door or front? I immediately decided against the Ocean Street side door, because that doorway was mutually visible to the entrance of Pete’s Tavern across the Acme parking lot. It would only be my luck to come out of the church just as the dreaded DeVores were leaving or being forcibly ejected from Pete’s. I turned back up the steps to the nave, and started to head for the front entrance when suddenly I remembered that there was an exit on the other side of the church, letting out onto a small garden and to the rectory, with quiet pathways leading either to Washington Street to the south or Jefferson to the north or around the rectory and to the west behind some shops to Decatur Street. Whichever of these routes I might choose, they would all be unlikely to expose me to an encounter or ambush by the DeVores or Miss Evans, or, horrible dictu, but not unimaginable the way this day was going, the three of them in a gang.

I crossed in front of the tabernacle, genuflecting quickly just to be on the safe side (and grunting in pain while doing so, having spent far too much time on my injured leg this day), went down the westward steps and out the door into this garden shadowed by old oak trees with flickers of a purple sky whisking through their leaves.

It was very quiet back here and almost dark but for the swaying blue illumination from the sky and some pale yellow light from two or three windows in the apparently electrically frugal rectory. I supposed Fathers Schwartz and Fahey were in there, doing whatever priests do on a Saturday evening. I wondered if they wondered what Father Reilly was doing? Or did priests observe a code of silence regarding their colleagues’ private activities?

I struck out around the rear of the rectory, deciding to take the dark path to Decatur Street. I was only a little more than two blocks from Elektra’s place. I needed only to move swiftly but most of all carefully.

But then I stopped again in that cobbled alleyway to the rear of the shops. I think I was behind the notions shop where my mother and aunts buy the material and thread for the utilitarian print dresses they wear, made from worn and brittle patterns passed down from their great-great grandmothers.

I thought (one of those flashes of sanity that strike me now and then): why was I skulking and creeping in the shadows trying to avoid these people? Was I not a grown free man? Could I not walk calmly and proudly and at my own pace on the well-lit sidewalk, and if I were accosted or waylaid by one or all of these fellow maniacs, could I not simply say I was going to visit my lady friend, and, no, I did not want anyone to accompany us on our date, nor did I feel like meeting up for a drink later, or possibly ever.

Why couldn’t I just say that? I started walking again on that mossy cobbled pathway in the shadows behind the shops, but walking with my shoulders back and at a normal speed.

Debouching a minute or so later out of the alleyway behind Dellas's 5 & 10, I calmly made a left down Decatur toward Washington. If only I hadn’t quit smoking that morning, this would have been a perfect moment to light one up. I limped along, like a returning wounded veteran, afraid of nothing and no one because he has already seen and survived hell and all its demons. And, now that I thought about it, that’s just what I was.

Washington Street was swarming with vacationers now, walking all shiny and sunburnt in their colorful attire in the bright light from the streetlamps and the shop windows. The traffic signal was green across Washington and I crossed and waited on the opposite corner.

Across the street was the good old Ugly Mug, and next to it on Decatur over there was the Pilot House, where I had met that woman Rhonda or Bertha or whatever her name was, those were dark times.

And there, at a table by the window of the Pilot House, I saw Steve and Miss Rathbone sitting together and looking at each other. Steve was smiling, and talking, Miss Rathbone was smiling and listening to him. They were both smoking, and they looked happy.

On the stage beyond them I saw through the smoke Freddy Ayres, playing his accordion, while his wife Ursula played the saxophone. I could faintly hear Freddy singing “On the Way to Cape May”.

I proceeded down Washington and turned on Jackson, crossed Carpenter’s Lane, and finally came up to the jewelry shop. It was still open, height of the season, I could see Fairchild and Rocket man in there, talking to potential customers. I went down the side of the house, past the fragrant ivy, the azaleas and rhododendrons, the glistening honeysuckle. I came to the back door. It was ajar, and I could hear music from up above, it was that young fellow who sounded like a hobo, Bobby Dylan. I pushed the door in and called hello. No response. I called louder.


“Yes,” I said calling up the stairs.

“Come up, man.” It was Gypsy Dave’s voice.

I went up the steps and into the living room. Gypsy Dave was sitting in the spring-blown easy chair, smoking a reefer in the dim light from a table lamp with a reddish scarf thrown over its shade.

“My man,” he said.

“Hi, Dave,” I said.

“What happened to your leg?”

“Oh, I just had a fall,” I sighed. I definitely wouldn’t be climbing out of any more third-floor windows; it just wasn’t worth all the questions you had to answer.

“Baby’s in her boudoir,” said Gypsy Dave. “Just go on in, man. She’s waiting for you. Oh, but wait, you want a hit off this?”

He held out the reefer.

It did seem tempting, but --

“I decided to quit smoking this morning,” I said.

“What? Pot?”

“Well, no. Cigarettes,” I said.

“Cigarettes, Arnold. Cigarettes -- bad. Reefer,” he held it up between his thumb and index finger, “reefer -- good.”

He had a point, a dubious point, but a point. After all, it wasn’t as if I was going to start smoking a pack of reefers a day. At least I hoped not.

I went over and took the proffered reefer and took a couple of drags, as Bobby the hobo boy sang.

“Well, thanks, Dave,” I said.

“You’re welcome, man,” he said, and he sank back in the chair, listening to the song, which was about a hard rain that was going to fall.

I went down the short hall to Elektra’s room. This door was ajar also, but I knocked.


“Yes,” I said.

“Come in.”

I did. She was standing in front of her dresser mirror, fixing her hair in some complicated lovely way. She wore a dress I hadn’t seen before, embroidered with ivy and tropical flowers, with puffy short sleeves, and a scoop in the back. It looked Mexican, not that I’ve ever been to Mexico, but I’ve seen movies. The skin of her back and of her arms was the color of melted caramel.

I came over to her, and here again I’m afraid I must elide over the next twenty minutes or so, partially out of an ingrained sense of modesty, partly out of a laziness stemming perhaps from ineptitude, but I think mostly out of a desire not to bring on a coronary thrombosis within the sainted heart of my mother were she one day, out of boredom or curiosity, to peruse these memoirs. Suffice it to say that I found myself unwilling even to try to exercise physical restraint, and Elektra didn’t seem to mind.

Afterwards we lay there with the lights out, and she said, finally, “You don’t know how much time I spent on my hair.”

“It wasn’t wasted time,” I ventured.

"I know," she said.

Bobby sang softly in the other room.

(Continued here et ad vitam aeternam. Kindly go to the right hand side of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all possible episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven, as featured on The Schlitz Playhouse of Stars.)

The hobo boy:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 104: “Onto the path of righteousness,” said Frank, “and all that other mother jazz...”

Larry Winchester, that master novelist (not to mention cinéaste, raconteur and gourmand), now responds to the question that’s been crowding our mailbox lately, i.e., “What up with the gang in the flying saucer?”

(Go here for our preceding chapter. Newcomers can go here to start the whole damn thing, absolutely free of charge for the next presidential term only.)

Harvey had sat down in the seat to the left of Buddy, and as he listened to Mac’s tale he watched the overhead screens, especially the one showing Enid and Hope with Moloch in the truck, riding in convoy with the Motorpsychos in slow motion through the desert night.

Mac paused now, swiveled his chair to the left and stubbed out his cigarette in the built-in ashtray.

Daphne had been half-sitting on Dick’s thigh. She reached over and touched her father’s shoulder. He patted her hand, took a deep breath, shook his head slightly, lifted his coffee cup from its saucer on the console ledge. The cup was empty.

“Do you want some more coffee, Papa?”

He shook his head, put the cup back down. He took out his Chesterfields, paused again, then laid the pack on the ledge.

“Okay,” he said, with another sigh. “I guess that’s when it really changed for me. When I saw you for the first time. When I realized that I had -- well -- helped to create a life.”

A tear appeared in Daphne’s eye.

She stood up, put both her hands on her father’s head, and kissed his cheek.

“Not a dry eye in the house,” said Frank.

Mac cast a cold eye on Frank.

Frank shrugged, picked up his almost-empty martini, plucked out the olive and put it in his mouth.

“Excuse me, Bubbles,” said Mac, his voice thick.

She stood away as he got up and walked over to the refreshments nook. He took down a bottle of Cutty Sark and a rocks glass, uncapped the bottle, poured himself a couple of fingers. He took a drink.

“Anyway, from that day on I realized that what we’d been doing on the earth was wrong.” He took another, smaller drink. “Dead wrong.”

“We didn’t do nothin’ the earthlings weren’t already doin’,” said Frank.

“Maybe so, Frank,” said Mac. “But I knew one thing: I couldn’t do it any more. I decided that from then on I’d do what I could to keep earthlings from killing each other. You see, I’d discovered something we don’t have in our world.”

He took a sip of the Cutty.

Back in Paco’s hut, Derek and Paco were still watching the movie on Paco’s little black-and-white Philco.

“He’s talking about scotch,” said Derek.

“Not scotch, you idiot,” said Paco. “He’s talkin’ about --”

“Love,” said Mac.

Che marron’!” said Frank.

“So I did what I could,” said Mac, ignoring or maybe not even hearing what Frank had said. “I exercised what influence I could -- with --” he nodded at Frank, “with this schmuck --” Frank raised his glass in salute; Mac went on, “-- with the Sailor, and the Home Office. And on Earth I worked -- behind the scenes. Things got a little dicey a few times, but I think I managed to help avert a few wars. I think I was -- useful -- during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But I could only do so much. You see, if I went too far, if the Home Office found out what I was really up to, they would pull me. But I knew that in the long run I needed help, and I knew it wasn’t going to come from my crowd. I needed human help. And that’s why I kept an eye on you, Dick. I had spotted your qualities from the first time I met you, at that Christmas party at your parents’ place, back in ’53. So I took an interest in your career. Helped to get you into Naval Intelligence.”

“Yeah,” said Frank. “So he spends the next few years pulling off wet jobs for the CIA.”

“That,” said Mac, “I had nothing to do with. Although I’m not so sure you can say the same, Frank.”

Frank made an open-handed Who? Me? gesture.

“I helped to organize Q Section,” Mac went on, “thinking that it would be a useful -- vehicle for you, Dick. And on the personal front I helped fix you up with Daphne --”

“You did?” said Daphne.

“Sure,” said Mac. “You think it was mere chance that you and Dick sat near each other at the Devon Horse Show that day? Y’see, I had this -- this crazy idea. To try to start a new élite on the Earth. An élite who would try to -- to lead the others --”

“Onto the path of righteousness,” said Frank, “and all that other mother jazz.”

Dick finished his martini, picked out the olive and ate it.

“There was already something brewing,” said Mac. “Nowadays they’re calling it the Spirit of the Sixties, the Aquarian Age, whatever --”

“Gimme a fuckin’ break,” said Frank, lighting up a cigarette and clicking the lighter shut with an insolent snap. “That’s a lot of hippy-dippy horseshit and you know it.”

“Well, for once,” said Mac, “I agree with you, Frank. But -- call me nuts --” he poured himself another shot of Cutty, then leaned back against the counter --”but -- I thought that if I could get people like you, Dick, and Daphne and Harvey here, and Hope, if we could get you together, maybe mankind could -- take another step. Stop the killing, stop the fighting.”

“Never fucking happen,” said Frank.

“That’s your opinion,” said Mac.

“That is my educated opinion,” said Frank. “I know these people. I have worked with these people. For some several fuckin’ millennia I been working with these maniacs. Do not tell me my business.”

“Look,” said Mac, “our race stopped having wars. The human race can, too.”

“You are walking on the street of dreams, my friend,” said Frank. “You are gone. Like way gone. I mean like out there, daddy-o.”

“But, Papa,” said Daphne. She still stood by Mac’s empty chair, and she was chewing her olive, having finished her drink some time ago, “why did you leave?”

Dick had gotten up, and he now took Daphne’s empty glass.

“I started getting static from the Home Office,” said Mac. “In Frank’s parlance I was ‘blowing the operation’.”

Dick brought Daphne’s empty glass and his own over to the refreshments nook.

“Go on, Mac,” he said, "I’m just going to reload these.”

“Good boy,” said Mac, getting out of Dick’s way, as Dick went to work mixing up a new batch of martinis. "Anyway, I got orders I was to stop working on my own. And they wanted me to concentrate on stepping up activity in Vietnam. I refused, and I demanded to take the next saucer back. And that’s where I’ve been these past five years -- arguing my case. I knew I couldn’t get operations suspended on the earth, but at least I hoped to be able to arrange to give earthlings a little more control over their destiny. My selling point was that this would make the ongoing human melodrama more interesting to the paying customers back home. But what I didn’t tell them was that my real plan was for mankind to get its shit together enough that it’d be something a little bit more than the entertainment industry for my race. And -- after five years of conferences, red tape, negotiations, infighting, compromise -- I finally got the Home Office to agree to give a certain amount of power to you, Dick --” Dick was pouring out two fresh martinis, “and to Daphne, and Harvey, and Hope.”

Dick popped an olive into each of the martinis.

“Excuse me, Mac,” he said. “Another beer, Harvey? Or a whiskey?”

“I’ll take another Pabst, sir,” said Harvey, still sitting in his chair by the console.

Dick pointedly did not ask Frank or Brad if they wanted refills.

“Please go on, Mac,” he said, and he opened the refrigerator.

“So the Sailor was sent down to pick all of you up,” said Mac. “Of course, things didn’t quite work out as planned.”

“No kidding,” said Frank.

(Go here for our next fabulous episode. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other extant chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, honorably mentioned by the Wasilla Christian Book of the Month Club.)

The Righteous Brothers: Little Latin Lupe Lu --

Friday, November 7, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 109: colloquy

Return with us now to a faraway planet called the past, and to a warm August evening in that forgotten year of 1963, as we visit the still-quaint and even slightly shabby seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey…

In our previous episode of this Dutch Masters Award-nominated memoir our intrepid hero Arnold Schnabel, having gone into Our Lady Star of the Sea Church to escape the seemingly ineluctable and hot-blooded novelist Gertrude Evans, encountered a downcast Father Reilly, who has his own reasons for avoiding Miss Evans. Father Reilly takes Arnold into the church office for mutual sanctuary, where, in the midst of that good priest’s dark night of the soul, Arnold’s personal lord and alleged savior suddenly appears --

Of course I took his gesture to mean that I wasn’t to reveal his presence to Father Reilly, but I wondered: if this tortured cleric were to turn around, would he see my friend?

Just as Father Reilly wished to see him (or Him as the case may be), if only just once, as for myself I would have liked even once for someone else besides me to see him.

All I had to do was ask Father Reilly to turn and look; but then I would be disobeying Jesus, probably a mortal sin by definition. Unless he was merely a figment of my imagination, in which case I was merely insane.

Delving into the moral quandary a bit further it occurred to me that if all went well I was probably going to commit a mortal sin that night with Elektra; and so, if I were going to be in a state of mortal sin soon anyway, what was the big deal about disobeying Jesus’s injunction to keep his presence secret now? According to Church doctrine one mortal sin was just as damnable as a hundred. However, Jesus had told me that extra-marital copulation was not a mortal sin. And so if my friend were indeed Jesus then I would not find myself in a state of mortal sin later that night upon committing the act of darkness. And indeed, hadn’t Father Reilly himself just given me the okay on that front?

“What are you thinking about?” asked Father Reilly.

I glanced at Jesus. He was smiling again, or still, his head cocked.

“I was thinking that seeing Jesus might not solve all your problems after all, Father.”

Putting his cigarette in his mouth and smiling more broadly, Jesus made an applauding gesture with his two hands.

“Yes, perhaps you’re right, Arnold,” said Father Reilly. He looked toward the door. “I wonder if she’s out there. We can’t stay in here all night. When are you supposed to meet your lady friend?”

“Pretty soon, actually,” I said.

“Gertrude – Miss Evans – said she’s quite attractive.”


“How old are you?”


This has been a recurring theme in my life, people asking me questions about myself. As much as I’ve tried always to blend into the woodwork people still seem to recognize me as a curiosity.

“And you've never married?” he asked me.
"No, Father."
"Why not?"

“I don’t know, Father.”

Which was, and is, the truth.

“Never met the right girl?”

In fact I had met more than a few girls who might have been right, or as right as could reasonably be expected, introduced at parish functions by my fellow ushers or Knights of Columbus. Not to mention certain women who had deigned to talk to me, or try to talk to me, as I sat in some bar quietly getting drunk.

“Afraid to settle down?” he asked.

That couldn’t be it. After all, I had always lived with my mother, and you couldn’t get much more settled down than that this side of the grave.

“Well?” he asked.

“What was the question again?”

He sighed. I couldn’t blame him.

“I’m just wondering why you never married, Arnold.”

I cast about for something to say which might contain a grain or two of truth.

“Um, uh –”

“Was it that you found it hard talking to girls?”

“Yes,” I said. “But then I’ve always had trouble talking to men also.”

“I can well believe it,” said Father Reilly. “But now here you have a lady friend. And you seem to have other friends as well.”

“That’s true,” I said.

Jesus seemed to be paying close attention to the conversation. He had no ashtray by where he sat, and I saw him tap the ash of his cigarette into the cuff of his wrinkled khaki trousers.

“Do you know what I think?” asked Father Reilly.

This is another question that’s always bothered me. I barely know what I think myself, how could I possibly know what anyone else thinks?

“No,” I said.

“I think you’ve spent your whole life being slightly insane, and that now you’re slightly sane.”

Father Reilly was doing that thing people do, trying to explain incomprehensible things in a sentence or two, which is at least less tedious than trying to explain them in a thousand sentences.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“Well, I definitely have my doubts about my sanity,” I said. “But if I’m only slightly sane then I don’t think my opinion is worth much.”

Jesus made the silent two-handed clapping gesture again.

In truth I was bored talking about myself, but at least this colloquy seemed to be taking Father Reilly’s mind off his own troubles. I almost hated to leave him, but the fact was I had a date with Elektra.

He had smoked his cigarette all the way down to his fingertips, and now he stubbed it out in the ashtray.

“Well, I guess I should be getting along now,” I said, fidgeting.

“Yes,” said Father Reilly.

I got up. The backs of my thighs were sticky from sitting on the leather chair in my bermuda shorts.

Jesus still sat there, in the deepening shadow. He was putting his cigarette out also, on the sole of his sandal, collecting the ash in the palm of his hand. He didn’t look up. I wondered if he would talk to Father Reilly after I’d gone. Well, it wasn’t my business. At least it wasn’t my business as far as I knew.

“Good evening, Father,” I said.

“Good evening,” he said. “Perhaps I’ll see you at mass in the morning. You usually come to the nine, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I said. “But I might come to a later one tomorrow.”

“Yes. You might have a late night I suppose.”

I thought it best not to reply directly to this statement. I went to the door, limped to the door.

“What happened to your leg?” Father Reilly asked.

“I fell,” I said. “Accidentally.”

Not mentioning that I had fallen trying to climb down a drainpipe from a third-storey window while trying to escape from the woman who perhaps even then waited to pounce on me outside.

I glanced one last time at Jesus, who was now dropping his extinguished cigarette butt into his trouser cuff.

I put my hand on the doorknob.

“I’ll be saying the noon mass also tomorrow,” said Father Reilly. “If you want to come then.”

I nodded, then opened the door, went into the gloomy sacristy, closed the door. I crossed the sacristy and opened its door, quietly. I looked out into the hall, saw no one, went out, and closed the door behind me, quietly.

(Go here for our next chapter. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all extant episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™: “...simultaneously the greatest American memoir since Walden, our greatest novel since Moby-Dick, our greatest book of poetry since Leaves of Grass, and much less boring than all of the above.” -- Harold Bloom.)

By overwhelming popular demand we welcome the lovely France Gall back to our stage with this Serge Gainsbourg composition:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 103: victory

By popular demand Larry Winchester* now checks in again with two of his most beloved characters, the Cockney rock star Derek Squitters and the Native American brujo Paco…

(Go here for our previous episode; and here is where the whole sad story began.)

*“This man loves to fuck with your head.” -- Harold Bloom

Now it was a Luden’s cough drops commercial.

“This shit’s freakin’ me out, Chief,” said Derek.

Paco bent forward, reached out, and switched the channel.

The World War II movie came on again with a montage of newspaper headlines in Italian, French, Chinese and English, all of them declaring in bold type “NAZIS SURRENDER! VICTORY IN EUROPE!”, followed by stock-footage shots of crowds of people celebrating in Times Square, Trafalgar Square, at the Arc de Triomphe.

Cut to the young Mac MacNamara -- unshaven, in dusty combat fatigues and overseas cap, carrying a battered leather briefcase, leaping out of a jeep on a London street on a bright spring day. The young Buddy Kelly, also unshaven -- in dirtier fatigues and cap, buck sergeant stripes on his sleeves, a dead cigar stump in his mouth -- sat at the wheel of the jeep.

“Our movie’s back on,” said Paco.

“Far out,” said Derek.

“Like me to wait for ya, Major?” said Buddy.

“That’s okay, Buddy,” said Mac. “Go get a load on. You deserve it.”

“Ah, now, Major, you know what happens when I get drunk. Remember that café in Brussels? Them three British officers? And them Belgian cops?”

“Oh, right,” said Mac. “Well --”

He laid his briefcase on the hood of the jeep, took out his wallet, pulled out a sheath of British currency and dropped it on the front passenger seat.

“Now, Buddy, I want you to drive directly to number 231-B Jermyn Street and go to the second floor. Tell the lady that Mac Macnamara sent you and you’re to have two of the finest Polish whores she’s got in that place.”

Buddy picked up the bills and counted them, took the cigar stump out of his mouth and whistled.

“Two, Major?”

Mac picked up his briefcase.

“You heard me, soldier. And that’s an order.”

Buddy stashed the bills in his jacket pocket and snapped off a salute.

“Yes, sir!”

Mac returned his salute, Buddy put the jeep in gear and roared off.

Mac strode across the sidewalk and up the steps of a large building. Graven into the granite above the arched entrance are the words “St Mary’s Lying-In Hospital”.

“I love this fuckin’ movie, man,” said Derek.

Sister St. John, a no-nonsense English nun in a white habit, stood in front of a door.

“I’m sorry, Major, but you simply cannot come barging in here --”

Mac took out his wallet, flipped it open, and showed it to the sister.

Adjusting her wire-rim glasses, she read the identification card.

“MacNamara,” she said. “So you are --”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Mac.

“But this is highly irregular, sir. Visiting hours are --”

“Sister,” said Mac, “you’re going to force me to turn on the charm. And I’m not so sure you want to see that.”

“Major, I assure you your charm will avail you naught with me.”

Mac drew two ten-pound notes from the wallet.

“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to resort to bribery.”


“For the poor box, sister.”

He slipped the notes into the shocked nun’s sash.

“But --”

“Sister, did anyone ever tell you how very charming you are when you’re shocked?”

“But --”

“Now if you’ll excuse me,” said Mac, “I’d like to see my progeny now.”

Touching her her arm gently with his left hand he sidled past her to the door, opened it, and went inside.

In the small white private room April slept beneath an open window, its white lace curtains billowing gently.

Mac took off his cap, folded it, slipped it into the epaulet of his field jacket.

Sister St. John stood in the doorway behind him, one hand clasped in the other.

“Well all right then,” she said, quietly. “But only fifteen minutes. Poor dear needs her rest, had a very difficult delivery, poor thing. And please, Major, no smoking.”

“Sure thing,” said Mac, speaking barely above a whisper.

The sister closed the door, leaving Mac alone in the room with the sleeping April.

“Oy, so he knocked the bird up,” said Derek.

“No kidding,” said Paco.

Mac stood there a moment, simply looking at April. Then he drew a seep breath, and sighed.

He went over to the bed, pulled a plain wooden chair closer to it, and sat down. He put his briefcase on the floor, took a pack of Chesterfields out of a side pocket of his jacket, shook one out and put it between his lips. He paused, staring at April’s face. He put the cigarette packet on the bed table, took out a scuffed Ronson and lit his cigarette.

April’s eyes opened. In the soft light from the window her face looked almost as pale as the pillow on which her head rested.

“Got a spare cigarette, soldier?”

Mac picked up the cigarettes again, gave the packet a shake, held it toward April’s lips. She ducked her head forward and brought it back with a cigarette between her lips.

She rose up weakly on her elbows and he gave her a light.

“Thanks,” she said.

The smoke from their two cigarettes merged and swirled in the spring breeze wafting from the window.

“Oh, and look, Mac,” she said. There was a teacup and saucer on the bed table, and April laid her cigarette on the saucer. “Your daughter and heiress.”

She drew back the covers to reveal a tiny sleeping infant at her side.

“Say hello to Papa, sweety,” she said.

The baby awoke and made a gurgling noise.

“Hi there,” said Mac.

He reached out his big index finger to the baby, she grabbed it and gurgled again.

“I’m thinking of calling her Daphne,” said April. “Do you like that?”

“Sure,” said Mac.

“Daphne was a nymph who, when pursued by Apollo, was saved by being changed into a laurel tree.”

“Did she have to stay a laurel tree?”

“I certainly hope not,” said April.

(Continued here. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other available episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, soon to be a major motion picture starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer.)

Monday, November 3, 2008

On Nov. 10 1944 my father, Ed Leo, known as “Bud” to the family, serving in the US Army, wrote this in a letter to his Aunt Kate, referring to the recent presidential election:

I was glad to hear Franklin got in again, so were the rest of the Joes.

A little over a month later he lost his leg to a German mortar shell. My dad worked as a tool grinder for many years, and he was a lifelong Democrat. His wife, my mother, Mary Dolores, known as “Dolly”, will be voting straight Democratic tomorrow, and so will I.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 108: concerning the lonely passion of Father Timothy Reilly, SJ

Poor Arnold Schnabel. In our previous episode of this Best Western Award-winning memoir, he escaped the omnivorously boring Mr. and Mrs. DeVore and the merely omnivorous Miss Evans by ducking out of Pete’s Tavern under the pretext of looking for the waitress. However, crossing the street a block away he looks back and sees the implacable Miss Evans exiting Pete’s. Always quick on his feet, Arnold dashes to the steps of Our Lady Star of the Sea Church (RC), seeking sanctuary or at least a hiding place. There he finds the civilian-clad Father Reilly sitting in a rear pew…

He wasn’t kneeling, merely sitting. He turned and saw me come in.

No one else seemed to be in the church except for Father Reilly. Everyone was outside, enjoying the seaside summer evening. Everyone except for Father Reilly and me, that is.

I genuflected and came over to where he sat.

“Father,” I said – whispering, God knows why, “it might be a good idea not to stay here.”


“I think Miss Evans might be following me.”

“Oh no.”

“Get up. We can go into one of the confessionals.”

“That would be sacrilegious.”

Father Reilly and Sister Mary Elizabeth – both of them worrying about the niceties of sacrilege when their very sanity was on the line.

“Father,” I said, leaning over into the pew, “I don’t know about you, but I’m hiding in a confessional. When she comes in I only ask you not to give me away.”

He paused, kneading his hands. It had never occurred to me before, but he’s actually a handsome man, of the poetic dark Irish type, medium height, very slender. He seemed in great moral pain. But it occurred to me that he would soon be in infinitely greater moral pain if he didn’t get a move on.

“Father –” I spoke.

“Okay,” he said.

He stood up and I stepped back to let him get out.

“Come with me,” he said, and he left the pew without genuflecting, and started down the aisle.

He was silent as we walked, quickly, almost but not quite trotting, down and to the right of the tabernacle, down the steps toward the side entrance and finally to a door on the left with a plaque reading “Sacristy”. He took out a key, unlocked and opened the door, and we went inside.

The room was dimly but colorfully lit by the failing light coming through a couple of stained glass windows. He locked the door behind us, and we went past the sacrarium and the sacristycredens to another door, this one unmarked. He unlocked it and beckoned me in.

He locked this door as well.

“We should be safe in here,” he said.

It was a wood-paneled office, with a desk, a leather armchair on the right beside a small lace-covered table, a few wooden chairs, a bookcase on the wall to the left. The only light in the room came hazily through a closed stained-glass casement window depicting Jesus during one of his forty days in the desert.

“Sit anywhere,” he said. “That leather chair is comfortable.”

I sat down.

“You can smoke if you like,” he said. “I’m going to.”

He was leaning back against the side of the desk. He took a pack of Camels out of his shirt pocket and leaned forward, offering it to me.

“I decided to quit smoking this morning,” I said, then gulped at the very sight of that delicious packet filled with wonderful unfiltered tubes of tobacco, perforce pausing before I could say what I as going to say, which was something like but I guess I’ll have one now, thus justifying Father Reilly’s withdrawing of the pack and saying, as he did:

“Oh, good for you. Horrible habit. You don’t mind if I have one, do you?”

“No,” I said, racked with envy and unsated addiction.

He shook one out and lit it with a paper match. He dropped the matchbook on the desk, and I noticed that they were Pete’s Tavern matches.

Then he leaned back against the desk, half-sitting on its edge, staring off toward the stained glass window, which was over my right shoulder. I noticed that he still had that lipstick smudge on his mouth, but I didn’t say anything about it.

He sighed, and smoked silently, occasionally tapping his cigarette ash into a large cut-glass ashtray. The dim light from the stained glass made the various planes of his face and his white shirt rose-colored, or orange, or purple, depending on his slightest movement.

A portrait of the Blessed Virgin Mother hung on one wall, and on the other walls were pictures of Jesus in several different stages of His career, as well as a large crucifix. None of these depictions looked very much like the Jesus who had been visiting me lately.

I really wished I had taken a cigarette. At the very least it would give me something to do if he was just going to lean there smoking. I was halfway tempted to get up and take a look at the books in the bookcase.

He had smoked half the cigarette when finally he spoke.

“I’ve disgraced myself, the Church, and the priesthood.”

I didn’t quite know what to say, or even if I should say anything. Fortunately, he helped me out.

“You don’t have to say anything,” he said.

I was certainly relieved to hear that.

He switched on a goose-neck lamp on the desk, but then at once switched it off.

I discreetly glanced at my watch. Another fifteen minutes or so and I could get out of here, and with any luck Miss Evans wouldn’t be lurking outside and I could make a mad dash for Elektra’s place.

“I know who you are, by the way,” Father Reilly said, looking at me now. “I recognized your voice from the confessional. You’re the one who thinks he’s being visited by Jesus.”

“Yes, Father.”

“The one who’s having sex with the Jewish girl.”


“The one who says Jesus says it’s okay to have sex with with this woman.”

“Uh, yes, Father.”

“Gertrude – Miss Evans – told me all about you. She seems quite impressed by you. I expected someone – well, I expected you to look different than you do.”

I had nothing to say to this.

“The way she described you, you sounded like a cross between Rock Hudson, Robert Mitchum, and Gregory Peck.”

“Father,” I said, “I think Miss Evans is not quite right in the head. And I speak as someone who knows something about mental disorders.”

“Yes, she told me you had been hospitalized. But she doesn’t think you really have mental problems. She thinks you’re some sort of mystic.”

“Well, like I said, Father –”

“Yes, she’s not quite right in the head. And I – I took advantage of her. I – I came very close to – to –”

“Father, if I may so so, she also took advantage of you.”

He paused, smoking.

“Do you think so?” he asked.

“Yes, Father.”

“I’m thirty-five years old,” he said, “and I’ve never been with a woman.”

He looked at the window again. I glanced at my watch: just a little bit longer.

“I often wonder,” he said. “Have I denied life? Am I wasting my time? Is there a God? Am I praying to something that doesn’t exist? Is Catholicism all just a superstition?”

He looked at me.

“Well?” he asked.

“I don’t know, Father,” I said.

“What did you do before your breakdown?” he asked.

“I was a brakeman, for the Reading Railroad.”

“See, at least you did something useful with your life. What do I do? I’m just a glorified medicine man. I might as well be in the jungle somewhere, dancing around a fire shaking rattles and beating tambourines.”

For the first time I noticed that he had a slight accent.

More to change the subject than anything else I said, “So, were you born in Ireland, Father?”

“Yes,” he said. “I came over when I was seventeen, right after the war. But don’t change the subject.”


“Well,” he said, “there’s nothing to be done but go to Father Schwartz straight away and confess.”

“But you didn’t do anything,” I said.

“I kissed her,” he said.

“But that’s no sin,” I said, without really thinking about it. “Is it?”

He didn’t answer me.

Now that he had brought up the subject of kissing I was really tempted to mention that lipstick smudge on his mouth, but I held my tongue. I stole another quick glance at my watch and this time he saw me doing it.

“I suppose you’re going to see your lady friend tonight,” he said.

“Uh, yes,” I said.

“And I suppose you’ll have sexual intercourse with her again.”

I cleared my throat, even though it didn’t really need clearing.

“It’s okay, Arnold,” he said.


“Why not? Why shouldn’t you behave like a normal human being? And, besides, this Jesus of yours gave you the go-ahead, didn’t he? I wish he would appear to me. Just once. Just once so I could know for sure that I’m not wasting my entire life.”

The funny thing was that Jesus did appear just then. Suddenly he was sitting there in one of the chairs on the other side of the office near the bookcase, in his raffish beach bum attire, smoking one of his usual Pall Malls, with his legs crossed and dangling a sandal from one foot. He looked at me, smiling, and put his upraised index finger to his lips, bidding me silently not to mention his presence.

(Continued here. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find a complete listing of links to all other episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, a Real American Production.)