Saturday, January 31, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 122: Arbuthnot

In our previous episode of this third-place prize-winner of the Plymouth Suburban Award for Creative Memoir, our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend Dick Ridpath, trying to avoid the dreaded DeVores and the hot-blooded Miss Evans, have accepted the sanctuary of the little old proprietor of the Whatnot Shoppe on this fateful evening in August of 1963, in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey...

So up we duly went, spiraling up, the light growing less dim as we ascended.

“Just go on through,” said the old fellow, behind me.

The doorway on the second floor was open, Dick went through and I followed. We were in the living room of a cluttered apartment. In fact it looked much like the shop we had just left down below. There was even a knight in armor standing in a corner, holding a pike or a lance. Or I should say a knight’s suit of armor, as presumably there was no knight inside it.

A couple of lamps were lit, an old brass floor lamp with a tasseled yellow shade, and a table lamp with a shade made of multicolored rhombuses of glass.

The old guy came up the stairs behind me and closed the door.

“I suppose we should wait a little while until your pursuers go away?”

“If you don’t mind,” said Dick.

“Not at all, I could use the company. My name’s Arbuthnot, by the way. That’s my shop downstairs. Arbuthnot’s Whatnot Shoppe.”

“Ridpath,” said Dick, “Dick Ridpath,” and he took the old fellow’s hand. “And this is my friend Arnold. Arnold Schnabel.”

“Mr. Schnabel,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, taking my hand in its turn. “Pleased to make your acquaintance. I’ve seen you around town.”

Oh, great, I thought.

The old man withdrew his little hand and, waving it at an old tiger-striped sofa draped with yellowed antimacassars, he said, “Have a seat then, gentlemen. Who would like a drink?”

“I wouldn’t say no,” said Dick.


“Fine by me,” said Dick.

Dick and I took seats on the sofa, which turned out to be one of those sofas which absorb you like some living thing, drawing you down so that you’re sitting only an inch or two from the floor, with your knees almost at a level with your chin.

“Sherry, Mr. Schnabel?”

“Thank you, yes,” I said. I felt as if I would need some sort of fuel to give me the energy even to start to extricate myself from this sofa.

A small black cat jumped onto the sofa between me and Dick, and began examining me as Mr. Arbuthnot went across the room to a glass-doored cabinet.

“I know your aunts, Mr. Schnabel. Very nice ladies.”

Well, he probably knew about my breakdown, then. Fine. Someday I would just have a sign painted, “Madman”, and wear it around my neck.

He came back across the room with a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream and three glasses. He laid the glasses on the long low lace-covered coffee table that was there, uncapped the bottle and poured out three drinks. Dick and I were both struggling to reach the drinks from our sunken positions when Mr. Arbuthnot helped us out and, leaning across the coffee table, handed the glasses to us. He took one too and climbed up onto an easy chair to our left. This chair had been piled up with cushions, and so Mr. Arbuthnot, instead of being almost submerged in the furniture like Dick and me, sat quite high on his seat, the bottoms of his little feet at least a foot above the rug.

“And Mr. Ridpath,” he said, “you’re staying at Mrs. Biddle’s, over on Windsor Avenue?”

“Yes. I’m sort of a family friend,” said Dick.

“Ah! A family friend. Cheers!”

Dick and I cheered, and we all drank some of the sweet sherry. I would much rather have preferred a Manhattan, but the way this evening was going I would take any drink I could get and be grateful for it.

“A navy man, aren’t you, Mr. Ridpath?” asked Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Yes,” said Dick. He was straining his reach to tap his cigarette ash into a big glass ashtray on the coffee table in front of us.

“I hope you gentlemen won’t think me an old busybody.”

Dick smiled, but, as he settled back into the sofa -- he had almost had to stand up again in order to reach the ashtray -- he gave me a brief look which seemed to say, “We’ll see who the hat fits.”

The cat jumped on my lap and looked at me more closely. It had a white patch under its chin.

“He likes you, Mr. Schnabel,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Say hello.”

“Hello,” I said.

“His name is Shnooby.”

“Hello,” I said, “Shnooby.”

“So, Mr. Schnabel, you’re courting that young lady from the jewelry shop?”

“Uh, yes, sir.”

“Hubba hubba! What is her name? Adrasteia?”

“Um, Elektra,” I said.

“Elektra! Elektra. Ah. So beautiful. A vision. She walks in beauty like the night. More beautiful than the night, really, because you can’t, ahem, you know, whatever, with the night,” he said. “And, Mr. Ridpath, haven’t I seen you squiring Mrs. Biddle’s granddaughter around town?”

“Um, well -- we’re certainly friends,” said Dick.

“Ah, friends!” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Ah, to be young like you two rapscallions. Ah yes. To be young.”

“Y’know, those people have probably moved on by now,” Dick said, working his body up from the absorbent sofa again, and, stretching his arm to its full length to reach the ashtray, putting out his cigarette. “We shouldn’t impose on your hospitality.”

“Not imposing at all!” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Well, but Arnold has to get back to --”

“To Aresteia!”

“Yes,” said Dick. “She’s waiting for him.”

“Can’t keep a lady waiting!”

“No,” said Dick.

“Do you want me to check?” asked Mr. Arbuthnot.


“To see if those people are still outside. Lurking.”

“Uh, sure, if you could,” said Dick.

“Don’t move!”

Mr. Arbuthnot put his drink down on a side table, jumped lightly off the easy chair, hurried across the room to a side table with an old globe of the Earth on it, picked up the globe, which was almost half as big as he was, and brought it over and set it down in its stand on the coffee table.

“Now, first, gentlemen, I must ask you please to give me your word never to speak of what I am about to show you.”

“Sure,” said Dick.

“Not even to each other.”

“Fair enough,” said Dick.

“Mr. Schnabel?”


I’d been stroking the cat’s head, only vaguely paying attention.

“May I please have your word that you won’t speak of what I’m about to show you?”

“What if it’s something illegal?” I asked.

“It’s not. Not necessarily, anyway.”

“Well, okay,” I said.

“Good. Sit up straighter, gentlemen.”

“Well, that’s not so easy, Mr. Arbuthnot,” said Dick, stating the obvious.

“Oh, right, well, get up and let’s take it back to the other table.”

He grabbed up the globe again and took it back to the table he’d just removed it from.

Dick and I looked at each other, but we put down our drinks, struggled out of our seats and followed, and the cat followed us.

“This is the way I usually do it anyway,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Just stand by this little table and look at the globe. Here, you two fellows stand over there and there.”

He directed me to stand right in front of the globe, and for Dick to stand to my left, nearer the wall. Mr. Arbuthnot stood across from Dick to my right.

“Okay, just spin the globe, Mr. Schnabel.”

“Just spin it?”

“Sure, give it a good healthy spin.”

Finally I had met someone in Cape May who was at least my equal in lunacy. The globe was old and its colors had faded to shades of deep brown and greyish purple. I gave it a spin, and it spun, round and round.

“Zero in around here,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, pointing with his little finger, “that’s the latitude of Cape May, scenic Cape May.”

I stared at the globe at the place he was pointing and then the three of us, Dick, Mr. Arbuthnot, and I, were standing on the sidewalk outside his shop, looking at Miss Evans and Mr. and Mrs. DeVore.

Dick and I of course were flabbergasted, silent.

“Don’t worry,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, “we can see and hear them, but they they can neither hear nor see us.”

“Let’s try Sid’s Tavern,” said Mr. DeVore. “I hear that’s a fun place.”

“Do you think Arnold would go there?” asked Miss Evans.

“Well, Miss Evans, from what I’ve heard, there aren’t any very many bars that Arnold wouldn’t go to.”

“All right,” she said.

She shifted her balck shiny purse back on her hip and led the way, striding back down Washington.

(Go here for our next wacky chapter. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find an allegedly complete listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, portions of which are now available as cellphone ringtones for an extremely modest fee.)

Françoise Hardy:

Friday, January 30, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 116: warpath

Paco's station wagon with original owner

Larry Winchester*, responding to an overwhelming volume of cards and letters, now turns his focus on a couple of beloved characters we haven’t seen in a while, the Native American brujo Paco and that dissolute rock star and wit, Derek Squitters.

(Click here to see our previous chapter or here to re-start the whole damn thing.)

*”The anti-John Updike.” -- Harold Bloom

Paco and Derek roared through the desert in Paco’s scabrous green ’55 Plymouth station wagon.

Derek was loving it. It was all so -- American.

Paco was even letting him drive. Driving wasn’t so hard if you just stayed in one gear and there were no other cars around for miles. Paco gave Derek directions, they stayed on little trails and dirt roads and they roared along.

The Seeds were singing “Pushing Too Hard” on the radio and it was all so fucking beautiful. Derek felt like he was in a fucking western, a fucking John Ford or Larry Winchester movie, he felt like he was Burt Reynolds in Navajo fucking Joe. This fucking desert all around, these weird buttes or mesas or whatever the bleeding hell they were called. Bleeding cactuses. Fucking tumbleweeds for Christ’s sake. Driving out here with this real Indian. And with his own shotgun, man. Just like James Caan in El Dorado.

This was the best fuckin’ night he’d had since his group first headlined the Albert fucking Hall.

Paco had loaded his granddad’s old Winchester repeating rifle for himself and his own double-barreled Purdey 12-gauge for Derek to use. The spirits had spoken through his TV set, and it was time to go on the warpath. It was strange that he had to go on the warpath with the Englishman, but life was strange.

Just to be on the safe side he made the Englishman his blood brother before they left, cutting slits in the palms of both their right hands with a butcher knife and then clasping the wounds together, mixing their bloods, then sticking Band-Aids over the cuts. He sure hoped he wouldn’t catch syphilis or some other white man’s disease from the Englishman.

(Continued here. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find a purportedly 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 featuring Burt Reynolds as "Paco" and Tom Courtenay as "Derek"; music by Ennio Morricone and the Spike Jones Orchestra; a Dino DiLaurentiis/Larry Winchester Production in association with Jack Webb. Rated R for vulgar language and excessive drug use.)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 121: whatnot

Previously in this memoir, which the noted scholar Harold Bloom has called “the greatest literary work of the 20th Century (not to damn it with faint praise)”, our hero Arnold Schnabel, having run out of the Ugly Mug in order to escape the dreaded DeVores and Miss Evans, meets up with his new friend Dick Ridpath on Washington Street, in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, on a hot Saturday night in August of 1963...

We were standing near the entrance to a shop called the Whatnot Shoppe. It’s been there ever since I first came to Cape May after the war, but I had never once entered it. (And indeed I’ve hardly ever entered any shop in Cape May or anywhere else except those selling cigarettes, alcohol, or lurid paperback novels.)

Normal people walked back and forth past us, unaware of our little drama.

“I could see Miss Evans was a little wackadoo,” said Dick. “What’s up with these other people -- what’s their name?”

“DeVore,” I said, and just to say the name was to feel as if something were sinking within me. “They’re staying at my aunts’ place, and I’m -- I don’t know.”

“Just can’t handle ‘em, huh?”

“No,” I said. “Or I’d prefer not to."

“I know what you mean,” said Dick. He took what might be called a contemplative drag of his cigarette, and I wished he would offer me one. “Some people just aren’t happy till they suck the life right out of you.”

“Well --”

I found myself stumbling once again in that never ending search for truth, hacking my way through jungles of falsehood with the dull machete of my conscience.

“What?” said Dick.

He took the cigarette from his mouth in an expectant way, smiling just slightly.

“It’s the sanity I’m afraid they’re going to suck out of me, Dick, the last bit of my sanity, and just leave me dribbling -- babbling,” I said. “That’s what I’m afraid of, anyway.”

Dick touched me once on the arm, looking me in the eye, then he tilted his head slightly.

“Who were you in the bar with, anyway, if I may ask?”

“I was with Elektra, my lady friend --”

“Charming girl --”

“Yes, and also Larry Winchester, and my, uh, friend Steve, you met him last night, and his friend Miss Rathbone.”

“The whole mob.”


“So -- what were you going to do, Arnold? Just wait out here and see if these people leave?”

“Well, uh --”

“And what if they don’t leave?”

I said nothing. My idiocy spoke volumes for itself without any help from me.

“And how long were you going to wait?” he asked.

“Five minutes?”

As if I had actually given the matter any thought.

“Wait,” he said. “Don’t turn around.”

I had been facing away from Decatur Street, away from the Ugly Mug.

“The Evans woman just came out,” he said, and he pulled me into the entrance area of the shop, which was set back a bit from the sidewalk.

We looked through the display windows and I could see the warped image of Miss Evans looking from side to side like a hunter as the DeVores also came out of the front entrance to the Mug. The three of them conferred briefly, and Miss Evans pointed up the block, toward where Dick and I hid.

“I hate to say it, Arnold,” said Dick, “but it looks like they might be coming this way.”

I looked at the door of the shop. It was closed and the interior of the shop was dark.

“I’ll make another run for it,” I said.

“They’ll see you.”

“Then I’m doomed.”

“Here’s the plan,” said Dick.

“A plan?”

“We turn around, stare into the window, try to look invisible.”


We turned, side by side, and by the light of a street lamp we looked into the window display, which contained mostly what I assumed were antiques, or if not antiques then old or old-looking things, but also modern folderol like Slinkys, Play-Doh, and Hula Hoops, as well as little cast-iron toy cars and army men made of painted lead.

“Talk normally,” said Dick.


“Two guys looking in the shop window.”


Then, to our right, the door of the shop opened, and a little old man looked out. He wore thick rimless eyeglasses of the sort I had only ever seen in movies made no later than 1934.

“May I help you gentlemen?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Actually, perhaps you can,” said Dick. “My friend and I are trying to avoid some very boring people who are coming up the street. Do you think we could come inside for just a moment.”

“Of course,” said the old man.

He stepped back, holding the door open wider. We went into the darkened shop, he closed the door and turned a key in its lock.

“I was afraid you two were casing the joint.”

Despite the warm weather he wore a dark grey three-piece suit. He stuck the key in his vest pocket.

“We’d better move away from the front, don’t you think?” he said.

“Yes,” said Dick.

“Mind your step,” said the old fellow.

The shadowy interior was larger than it had seemed from outside, but it was crowded with tables and cases and shelves full of bric-à-brac, not to mention half a dozen old mannequins and tailor’s dummies dressed in clothes no older than the roaring twenties.

“Just stand still,” said the old man. “Pretend to be one of these mannequins.”

He joined us near the back of the store, and we all stood still, impersonating carved blocks of wood.

First we saw Miss Evans, striding purposefully in the vanguard. I noticed she was carrying a large silvery purse that matched her dress.

“There she is,” said Dick, in a low voice.

Miss Evans stopped and looked back over her shoulder.

“You fellows are hiding from her?” said the old man. “She’s a looker. A bit thin, maybe, by my lights --”

“She’s insane,” said Dick.

“Ah, well, that’s different.”

Miss Evans was now staring into the shop, her head cocked slightly to one side. Then came the DeVores, almost bumping into her.

“So, the famous DeVores,” said Dick.

“Yes,” I whispered.

Now all three of them seemed to be looking into the shop as they talked, although this gazing might have been absentminded, just something to look at while they schemed and plotted.

“Y’know, I think they’ve seen the light of your cigarette,” said the old man.

“Damn!” said Dick.

“Don’t move,” said the old man. “I think their eyes are drawn by the light, but they probably don’t know what it is. It could be a reflection from the street lamp, or a night light. Uh-oh. They’re coming closer. Quickly, follow me.”

He went silently through the shadows to the right rear of the shop, opened a door, turned and beckoned us with one hand.

Dick went first, and I followed him through the doorway and into a four foot passage at the foot of a narrow winding dark stairs with a faint light falling down from above.

The old fellow came in after us and closed the door.

“Go right on up,” he said.

(Continued here. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find an allegedly complete listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, portions of which will be read by Mr. Orson Bean next Tuesday evening on Book Chat With James Branch Cabell (featuring the jazz stylings of the Pete Condoli Combo), at 10:00 PM, EST, on the DuMont Television Network.)

Dave Berry: the crying game --

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 115: aftermath

Larry Winchester* now returns to the suave voice of Dick Ridpath, last seen floating in free-fall following a shoot-out in a flying saucer (see Episode 108) as it passed through dimensions, several thousand miles above a town called Disdain...

(Click here to see our previous chapter.)

*”The Homer of our age.” -- Harold Bloom

Well, by the time I came out of it I won’t say I couldn’t have used a martini.

We were out of free-fall now and I had somehow wound up back in my seat. To my right Daphne was slumped in her own chair, passed out. Harvey was passed out in his seat also, his head against the console.

“They’re okay, Mr. Ridpath. It always gets a little weird passing through dimensions. They’ll probably wake up in a minute or two. I stuck you and the lady back in your seats. The young fella was already strapped in, so he was okay.”

This was Brad, sitting to my left. Rather intently turning dials, toggling switches, punching buttons.

On the floor behind us Mr. MacNamara and Buddy lay stretched out on their backs side by side, their eyes closed, in a big pool of blood. Blood was splattered all over the place, actually. I suppose it had all slopped down like rain when we left free-fall.

Over by the refreshments nook Frank lay curled up in a slightly smaller pool of blood.

“Are they all dead?” I asked.

“I don’t think Frank’ll ever croon ‘Fly Me To The Moon’ again. Buddy and Mac, I dunno. They’re still breathing, but it don’t look good.”

Wait, have I mentioned all the TV screens? All these TV screens spread out above and around the pilot’s console. And by glancing from one to another you could get some idea of what was happening back on the Earth.

There was Enid’s truck sitting out in the dark desert somewhere.

Close-ups of Enid and Hope, smoking cigarettes in the cab of the truck, Hope at the wheel, Enid next to her.

That motorcycle guy, Moloch, unconscious with his nose smashed in, slumped next to Enid.

On another screen a wide-shot of all these motorcycle guys ranged along the outside edge of the atomic sinkhole below that mesa, the one that awful desert-trash family had disappeared into.

And my old friend Pym’s head sticking out of the sand.

At this point nothing surprised me.

On other screens I saw Big Jake and a thin bald man driving in Jake’s Cadillac. (Later I found out that the bald man was the town doctor, named Goldwasser.)

Another screen showed Paco and Derek driving together in an old Plymouth station wagon.

And on one screen I even saw the flying saucer we were in, it was flying away from the Earth, just zipping along, the Earth getting smaller and smaller.

I asked Brad what he was doing.

“Takin’ us back to the station, Mr. Ridpath. Soon as I build up enough steam, we’re crashing back through the dimensional wall again and heading back to the casino. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. Unless you want to try to pilot this baby.”

I looked at the controls. They were rather daunting. But then I thought about the casino. I really didn’t want to go back there again. Especially considering the circumstances under which we had left it. And lugging back its boss’s bullet-ridden corpse to boot.

Also there was the question of Hope and Enid and those motorcycle fellows.

No, this was an untenable situation.

I saw my old Browning lying on the deck near my feat.

I got off my stool, picked up the gun, pointed it at Brad.

“Now what the fuck, Mr. Ridpath.”

“Get up, Brad.”

“Jesus Christ, you’re not serious.”

“I’m perfectly serious, Brad. Now move.”

“Jesus fucking Christ, you’re gonna try and pilot this thing, and land it in one piece?”

“You betcha.”

“Fucking earthlings. Y’know something? I live another hundred thousand years I will never understand --”

“Just move it, Brad. You’re wasting time.”

“Ah, fuck, look, you win. I’ll bring the fucker in to earth, okay?”

“Well, no, not okay, because I want you to do that finger-healing thing with Mac and Buddy and try to save them.”

“Look, Mr. Ridpath.” He flicked another switch and then swiveled around on his chair to face me. “It’s like this. I can try to land this heap, which is the very latest model and which to tell the fucking honest truth even I am not familiar with, except for one article I skimmed through in Flying Saucer Mechanics -- let alone qualified -- and try to get all our asses down on the ground in one piece; or I can, say, turn the controls over to you who are shall I say even less eminently qualified while I try to do the laying on of hands bit with these two guys who are probably goners irregardless. Now -- you’re an intelligent man for a goddam earthling. You decide.”

Well, I chewed on this for a couple of seconds. He certainly had his points.

“Turn it around,” I said, “and point it at the Earth again, Brad, then I’ll take over.”

“Oh, right, and send us all maybe crashing into fucking Mount Everest at fifty thousand fucking miles an hour.”

Well, sometimes I’m just a little nutty, I admit. So I cocked the pistol, took a step closer and pointed it between Brad’s eyes and told him to do as he was told.

This seemed to scare him. He swiveled around again and did something with the dials. You felt the saucer lurch. I looked up at the screen and now the Earth was getting larger.

I told him to get up.

He got up.

This time I was thinking. I patted him down, and sure enough I found a snubnose .38 in his coat pocket. Mac’s gun. I put it in one of my own pockets. Then I found my Airweight in Brad’s trouser pocket, and I took that. I stuck it in my other pocket and told him to get to work on Mac and Buddy.

Then Daphne woke up.

And she was upset of course.

(Continued here. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find a possibly up-to-date listing of links to all other extant chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, soon to be an American International Picture starring Alain Delon.)

The Spencer Davis Group: can’t get enough of it:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 120: "It’s always something, isn’t it?," he said...

In our previous episode of this critically-acclaimed* memoir , our hero Arnold Schnabel, enjoying the company of his friends in a booth of Cape May’s convivial Ugly Mug, suddenly spied, entering from the side hallway, his nemeses: the lethally boring Mr. and Mrs. DeVore...

*“Truly a purpose-driven book in a purposeless world.” -- Pastor Laureate Dr. Rick Warren

“In fact,” continued Steve, “why don’t we get married in Europe, darling?”

“Ah,” said Miss Rathbone, not to Steve but to the waitress, who had arrived with our round of Manhattans, and who now, squeezing in between St. Thomas Becket and Jack Scratch, started to dispense the cocktails from her tray.

Miss Rathbone took her Manhattan before the waitress could lay it down, but just as she was about to taste her drink she stopped and said to me, “Why are you hunching down, Arnold? Are you all right?”

“Um --”

“You look like you’re hiding from something,” said Steve.

I was aware of all of them staring at me, as indeed I continued to hunch down and bend inward like a turtle trying to hide in a shell that wasn’t there.

“Arnold?” said Elektra, her head cocked slightly.

The waitress put a Manhattan down in front of me. My head was so close to the table that my nose almost touched the rim of that beaded lovely drink which I now wished I could just dispatch with a gulp, not easy to do at this awkward angle.

“Sweetheart,” said Jack Scratch to the waitress, “please bring a bottle of your best champagne to this table with five glasses, and I’ll pay for it.”

“Sure,” she said, and went off.

I crouched lower over the table. Maybe, just maybe, if the DeVores didn’t see me they would leave.

“Arnold is hiding from something!” said Steve, rising up in his seat and looking around, with one hand on Miss Rathbone’s bare shoulder. “Something or someone.”

Then he quickly sank back in his seat.

“It’s them!” he said.

“Who?” said St. Thomas Becket, glancing over his left shoulder as little Jack Scratch looked the opposite way.

“It’s those awful people!” said Steve.

“Who?” asked Larry.

Miss Rathbone and Elektra said nothing, but took quick deep drinks from their Manhattans.

Now Steve was slinking down farther into his seat.

“It’s this awful couple who are staying at Arnold’s aunts’ house. It is them you’re hiding from, isn’t it, Arnold?”

I nodded, my chin almost striking the table.

“Who cares, Arnie?” said Larry. “What’s the worst they can do to you?”

Suddenly Steve sat up straight.

“That’s right, Larry! We’ll just tell them to buzz off if they try to bore us.”

“We two could set up a line of defense,” said little Jack Scratch, meaning him and his friend St. Thomas Becket.

“Would you?” asked Steve. “Would you do that?”

“Of course we could,” said St. Thomas Becket. “We’ll loom over you and refuse to give them access.”

“It’s no use,” I said, still crouched over. “I appreciate your offer, but your looming over us would not stop them. No. It won’t stop them.”

“So we’ll tell them to buzz off,” said Larry.

“Arnold,” said Elektra, and she put her hand on mine. “It’s okay.”

I lifted my drink to my lips, and, in that awkward position, I drank about half of it.

“Listen,” I said, to Elektra mostly, but to everyone else as well. “I’m just going to sneak out for a minute. Just a minute. They’ll recognize you, Elektra, and Steve and Miss Rathbone, and they’ll ask you where I am. Tell them you haven’t seen me, and they might just possibly go. I’ll hide in the alley across the street, and when I see them leave I’ll come back.”

“Arnold,” said Elektra, “that’s insane.”

“No,” I said. “Insane is what I’ll be if they try to talk to me in my present state.”

“Oh," she said. "The, uh --"

“Yes,” I said -- Larry's mushrooms -- although to be honest I’m not so sure how much the mushrooms had to do with it. “Okay,” I said.

Arnold,” said Elektra.

“No, dear, let him go!” said Steve. “Sometimes discretion is the better part of whatever. Go, Arnold! Like the wind!”

I squeezed Elektra’s hand once and slid out of the booth, St. Thomas Becket politely stepping aside.

Staying bent over I hustled my way down the length of that crowded bar without looking back.

I turned right at the end, keeping low, but then, just coming in the front door I saw none other than Miss Evans in her flashing silvery dress.

So, a two-pronged attack, I should have expected as much. Had she joined forces with the DeVores, in an infernal alliance of tedium and madness?

I froze in my hunched and crabbed position. Two or three people on barstools were staring at me, but what did I care?

But then I saw Miss Evans’s eyes grow suddenly wide, and she launched off down the other side of the bar. And, like Quasimodo pursued by the Parisian rabble, I darted around the curve of the bar and to the doorway. Glancing to my right I saw Miss Evans in consultation with the DeVores, and then I was out the door.

I jogged across Washington Street against the light, just avoiding being hit by a large Plymouth Savoy Fleet Car.

My quickly formed plan was to go to the mouth of that alleyway behind Dellas’s 5&10, and to lurk in the shadows there where I could see both entrances to the Ugly Mug.

Quickly I crossed Decatur Street, just as the light was changing again, this time barely escaping the white-walled wheels of an enormous Oldsmobile Super 88.

Soon I was at the alleyway, that same alley through which I had skulked an hour or so ago, trying to avoid these same three people.

I stood there in the shadow, trying not to seem sinister, but after all it’s impossible I think to stand motionless just within the entrance to a dark alleyway and not seem sinister.

Resolutions be damned, what I wouldn’t have given for a cigarette just then.

People walked by, normal people, presumably normal people, well, I think it safe to presume they were more normal than myself.

I saw a police car coming up the street on Decatur. I couldn’t just stand there like Jack the Ripper. It was either go out onto the sidewalk and walk in some random direction like a regular person or duck deeper into the alley.

I ducked deeper into the alley, and once I started I thought it best just to keep going. I would come out at the other end and then head carefully back down Washington.

Soon I was at that leafy pathway leading back to the entrance to the rectory.

There was the rectory, and there the church. Was Father Reilly still in his office, still gnashing at his own soul in his dark night? Perhaps, but I had my own problems.

I made a right and got back onto Washington. This was all getting very tiring, and I was tempted just to go home and go to bed. But I had told Elektra I would come back. I stood there, looking down the block, hoping to see my pursuers simply leave the bar and turn back to my aunts’ house, so that I could return to my friends and a hamburger and fries.

I walked back toward Decatur, staying on the opposite side of Washington Street from that occupied by the Ugly Mug, trying to walk as if casually among the vacationers while keeping my eye on the front entrance of the Mug. I suppose my new plan was to go just far enough down the block that I would be able to see both entrances of the bar, and then to pretend I was looking into a shop window...


I leaped, hunching my shoulders, probably looking as if I had just been shot in the lower back with a small-calibre pistol.


I turned, crouching, as if expecting a final shot to the head, but it was only Dick Ridpath.

“Did I startle you?” he asked.

“Oh, a little,” I said.

I straightened up. Dick wore khaki trousers and a loose floral-print shirt. He carried a cigarette in one hand and his skin was much more tanned than it had been the last time I saw him, last night.

“What’re you up to, buddy?” he asked, extending his hand, which I shook. “Taking a walk?”

“In a manner of speaking,” I said.

He smiled.

“In what manner of speaking?”

Once again, as so often lately, the truth seemed the easiest bet.

“I’m trying to keep an eye on the entrances to the Ugly Mug, to see if Miss Evans -- you met her last night -- and also this couple named DeVore -- all of whom I’m trying to avoid -- leave, so I can go back inside and rejoin my friends.”

“These people chased you out?”

“In a manner of -- yes,” I said. “Oh, and also, I’m under the influence of these mushrooms Larry gave me.”

“Larry gave you the mushrooms?”

“I’m afraid so.”

He took a drag of his cigarette, gazing down and across the street in the direction of the Ugly Mug.

“Always something, isn’t it?” he said.

(Continued here. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find a possibly complete listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, as serialized on "Andy Devine Presents the Ovaltine Playhouse" for the next thirty-seven Tuesdays, at 10:30 PM (EST) on the DuMont Television Network (where available) starring Ben Gazzara as Arnold Schnabel and Anthony Franciosa as Dick Ridpath.)

Dusty: if you go away…

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 114: regrets?

Larry Winchester, never one to leave a plot strand loose for more than a month or two, now returns to Captain Alexis Pym (USN), last seen descending the steep slope of Dead Horse Mesa in a jeep with the air force officers Col. Masterson and Lt. Perkins (see Episode 107), on a night in early September, 1969, in the desert near a former A-bomb testing site not too far from a town called Disdain, in the great state of New Mexico, "the land of enchantment"...

(Click here to see our previous chapter, or go here to see the beginning of this novel, recently short-listed for the Sandoz Award for Mind-Expanding Fiction.)

Pym stood straining on tiptoe on the hood of the jeep. He didn’t know it but the jeep was sitting on the cab of the deceased Thorndyke family’s truck. With his head tilted back the sand was just up to his lower lip. He had been standing here buried up to his mouth in the loose but heavy sand for what seemed like an hour (but which he realized was probably more like ten minutes) when the motorcycles and the truck appeared. He had watched as the motorcyclists shot out the truck’s tires and then proceeded to circle the truck, shouting and shooting into the air and behaving like savages. He had not even attempted to yell for help. They would not have heard him over the din and even if they had they would not have helped him. They would have laughed at him.

But then the one big squat fellow went flying into the air with his bike and then down, to disappear into this strange sand, the same sand that had swallowed up Masterson and what’s-his-name, Perkins.

Masterson and Perkins had panicked when the jeep began to sink into the sand, they leapt out of the jeep and tried to slog and thrash their way to solid ground. And cautious Pym, cool Pym, had watched the two men sink, thrashing, grunting, yelling, then screaming, and then silence as their heads sank under, only their grasping clawing hands visible, and then nothing, the starlit sand settling, smooth and impassive as the surface of a quiet lake.

Pym on the other hand had climbed onto the hood of the jeep as it sank, prudently deeming it best to see how the other two fared before doing anything else. And he and the jeep had slowly but surely sank. Oddly enough he hadn’t panicked. He had felt only a corresponding sinking feeling in his chest, a certain sadness. Some regrets. A few massive regrets. Like having been a sort of worm all his life, a weasel at best. Like never having enjoyed a sexual act with another person as much as his most cursory solitary masturbation. He regretted now not having eaten more pork chops, more mashed potatoes with lots of gravy, not having gotten drunk more often.

And he realized now, yes, he had long been in a sort of love with Dick Ridpath. All these years. And now, of course, Ridpath would triumph in the end, whereas he, Pym, would slowly suffocate in this pitiless sand amid his own quite self-piteous and weaselly regrets.

When first he had heard the motorcycle and truck engines he had thought, Well, maybe there’s still a chance. To live. To drink fine wines and eat succulent pork chops. To hire beautiful and expensive and sensitive call girls with his children’s college funds. To find Ridpath, and, and to say, I am not a worm, sir, I am not a weasel, no, sir, I am every bit as good as you, sir, Mr. Ridpath!

But then he saw that ragtag cavalcade of armed motorcyclists and the old flatbed truck and he realized that he was apparently going to die tonight after all, a worm and a weasel to the end, with Ridpath somewhere unknowingly triumphant, with a martini in his hand and a bon mot on his lips.

(Continued here. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find a purportedly complete listing of links to all other extant chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™ “A novel we can believe in.” -- Harold Bloom.)

Friday, January 16, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 119: announcement of "some terrific news"

Having successfully resisted the blandishments of that sub-demon Jack Scratch (read all about it here), our hero Arnold Schnabel exits the men’s room of the Ugly Mug (“Where the Élite Meet to Eat in Old Cape May”), on this sultry night in August of 1963...

(All contents of this memoir vetted and approved by the Papal Censor of St. Paul’s, Vatican City, Rome, Italy. Nihil obstat Bishop John J. (“Big Jack”) Graham, S.J.)

So eager was I to escape this importunate fellow that, wheeling sharply to the right, I all but galloped (as much as my gimpy leg would allow me to gallop) down that narrow hallway, bursting out not into the barroom but, bewilderingly, onto the teeming sidewalk outside the bar.

Was it it within this Jack Scratch’s power to turn the inside of a bar into the outside of a bar?

I wouldn’t put it past him.

Perhaps after all I had been too hasty, or at any rate too rude. Should I go back and apologize? But, no, he had probably left the bathroom as well. And where would he have gone? Into the bar? But how could he go into the bar if the bar had been turned into the outside of the bar?

Suddenly Steve and Miss Rathbone loomed up towards me, strolling out of the door of the next-door Pilot House, or rather they strolled out first and then loomed up to me (although I didn't notice their leaving the Pilot House until they were actually looming up to me).

They still wore the clothes I had seen them in earlier in the day, Steve in his suit that had now assumed the color and seemingly the consistency of Coppertone suntan oil, Miss Rathbone in her pink dress that had been at least somewhat puffy that afternoon but which had since deflated like popped bubblegum.

They rolled to within four feet of me before either of them appeared to recognize me.

Then suddenly:

“Arthur!” yelled Steve.

“It’s ‘Arnold’, silly!” said Miss Rathbone.

“’Arnold’ I mean!” said Steve, clapping his hand against the side of his head, which caused a cloud of sparks to explode from the other side of his head, a cloud which coalesced into a scintillating teardrop-shaped swarm that swirled once above our heads and then flew off into the night.

And I realized that Steve was indeed Jesus Christ. And yet he was also different from the other Jesus with whom I had already spent so much time today.

And Miss Rathbone for her part, despite her modern clothing, seemed for all the world like Mary Magdalene, radiating humility and love.

“Arnold,” said Steve, “are you plastered or what? Say something.”

“He’s plastered,” said Miss Rathbone.

And then I saw they were just Steve and Miss Rathbone, or at least provisionally so. And I realized that I was outside the bar simply because I had gone outside the bar.

And then I remembered the mushrooms, Larry’s mushrooms, and I swore, ‘Never again’. I needed no help in being crazy.

“Sorry,” I said, “I was just -- lost in thought,” which was one way of putting it.

“What are you doing standing out on the pavement, Arnold?” asked Steve. “Are you loitering with intent?”

“I went the wrong way coming out of the men’s room in there,” I said.

“Arthur, Arthur, I mean, Arnold, Arnold,” said Steve, “but, say, we were just going in for a cocktail ourselves. Come join us. We have some terrific news to impart.”

“Well, I was already sitting with Elektra and Larry Winchester,” I said, suave as ever.

“Then we’ll join you. Onward!”

He grabbed my arm with a surprisingly strong grip and pulled me in, Miss Rathbone tagging along behind us.

The next several minutes swirled by in a blur of greetings, of people getting up and shaking hands and kissing cheeks, the loud jazz music and the chatter and laughter of other people swirling through all of it. Jack Scratch was now sitting at the bar, and in fact was engaged in what appeared to be an intense conversation with the now awakened St. Thomas Becket. I tried to stand out of the way, especially that of a waitress who kept trying to get past us, and who, finally, after having a ten-dollar bill pressed into her palm by Larry, quickly cleaned off a just-vacated booth and installed in it the five of our little group. Larry sat on the inside, facing the band, who were playing, “What Is This Thing Called Love”, I sat next to him; Steve sat facing Larry on the other side, with Miss Rathbone squeezed in next to him, and Elektra next to her.

As soon as we ordered our drinks -- it had now become Manhattans all around -- Steve lit up a cigarette and declared that he had an announcement.

“Charlotte and I are going to be married!”

I glanced at Elektra, and at Larry, and they both had that expression which seems to say, “Is this a joke?” From Miss Rathbone’s (Charlotte’s) expression, the answer might well have been Yes, don’t worry, it’s a joke, and that could easily have been what Steve’s beaming smile was saying also.

“Tell them, Charlotte,” said Steve.

“Tell them what?”

“We’re getting married!”

“Oh, right. We’re getting married. What the hell!”

“I formally asked her hand from Mrs. Rathbone this afternoon,” said Steve. “That’s Charlotte’s mother.”

“And she said yes?” asked Larry.

“She said what Charlotte just said: ‘What the hell!’”

“Steve, are you pulling our legs?” asked Larry.

“No,” cried Steve. “I’m perfectly serious, Larry.”

“Oh, well, congratulations then, buddy.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“And to you, too, Charlotte,” said Larry.

“Thanks, chum,” said Miss Rathbone.

“And,” said Steve, “I want you, Arthur,” which appellation (Miss Rathbone having given him a sharp elbow to the ribs) he quickly amended to, “Arnold! Arnold, Arnold, Arnold, I want you, Arnold, to be my best man. Please say yes.”

What else could I say?

“Sure, Steve,” I said. "I would be honored. And my congratulations to you both."

I felt something on my knee. I looked down but it was okay, it was only Elektra’s hand, reaching under the table to give me a reassuring pat.

“I couldn’t help but overhearing,” said the little man, Jack Scratch, who was suddenly standing at our table, bowing and smiling.

“You must have the ears of an elephant,” said Steve.

“I have very acute hearing,” said Jack Scratch. “And my friend and I --” he gestured over to the bar, to St. Thomas Becket, who smiled and waved at us -- ”my friend and I would like to send you over a bottle of champagne.”

“Oh! Send away then!” said Steve.

A confusion of introductions ensued, and even Thomas Becket came over and shook hands with everyone. Both he and Jack Scratch introduced themselves to me in that way people do when they’re not entirely sure if they’ve met you before, or, if so, if you remember having met them; or perhaps in that way people shake hands with you when they want others not to know that you’ve met, or think that you might not want others to know about it. Or perhaps I was reading too much into it all.

One thing I did notice, the names of these two had changed. I didn’t quite catch the names they gave but I’m pretty certain that these were not St. Thomas Becket and Jack Scratch.

“So when is the happy day?” asked Jack Scratch (I’ll call him that for the time being.)

Both Steve and Miss Rathbone looked at him blankly, and then Steve said, “What happy day?’

“Your wedding day!” said Thomas Becket.

He was leaning forward, I suppose to hear and to be heard better. I noticed that the top of his head was sliding forward again.

“Oh!” said Steve. “We haven’t discussed a date." He put his hand on Miss Rathbone's. "When shall we do it, dear?"

"As soon as possible, Steve," she said, "before I change my mind."

"Soon!" said Steve. He looked at all of us. "Soon."

“That’s wonderful,” said Jack Scratch, and for the first time I noticed two small bumps on either side of his round little forehead.

And I thought, where was the world coming to if martyrs and devils consorted in bars? Or where had the world already gone, or perhaps always been?

And then I saw an awful sight.

Across the bar I saw Mr. and Mrs. DeVore, coming into the barroom by the side entrance, wide-eyed, their heads swiveling back and forth like the turrets of two implacable Tiger tanks.

(Continued here. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find a soi-disant complete listing of links to all published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven ™, soon to be serialized live on the Kresge’s 5&10 Dramatic Showcase hosted by Tommy Noonan, on the DuMont Television Network.)

Otis Rush:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Runner-up Kathleen Maher and husband Manny posing with consummate class after announcement of Weblogs Award for Best Literature Blog.

Close but no cigar: Blue Girl reacts as one would expect upon announcement of rigged Best Diarist Award.

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 113: Hope's eyes

Larry Winchester’s crane-mounted camera now swoops down from the desert night to a band of motorcyclists circling a ‘54 Dodge flatbed truck (with tommy-lift), its tires deflated by the guns which the cyclists, members of a foul gang of reprobates known as the Motorpsychos, now fire into the air as they shout and roar and cause their engines to emit rude explosive noises.

Inside the truck sits the sculptress/café proprietor Enid, holding an army .45 on the gang leader Moloch, whom she has just knocked out with said heavy weapon, while at the wheel sits the rancher’s daughter Hope, of the lustrous dark hair and deep dark eyes.

(Click here to review our previous chapter, or go here to see the beginning of this novel, of which the critic Harold Bloom has said, “The 21st Century canon starts here. Let’s hope it doesn’t end here.”)

Hope softly smoked, stroking Moloch’s Webley in her lap, and watched the Motorpsychos wheeling and bucking round and round, shooting and screaming, headlights so bright, lighting up the dust and stones and pebbles flying all about, while off there to the right loomed the dark hump of Dead Horse Mesa with that great scooped depression spreading out from its base.

All this now was some sight, a beautiful and amazing sight in its way, a sight she doubted anyone had ever seen in quite this way -- no, of course no one had ever seen it this way. How could anyone, unless she, Hope, had existed before, been stuck in this truck with Enid and Moloch, surrounded by circling Motorpsychos exactly in this same spot on this same night in September 1969 at...well, never mind.

She realized for the first time in her life that each moment of existence was unique.

She decided to make this moment even more unique.

She picked out one Motorpsycho in particular, the particularly ugly fat and ugly one who had shot out their right front tire with his shotgun.

She watched him as he idiotically roared around the front of the truck, howling and brandishing his shotgun high, so huge and so fat he made his enormous motorbike look small.

He zoomed around to the right and she waited till he reappeared on the left, and then she stared with all the darkness in her soul, concentrating it through her pineal gland and out of her eyes, and just as he came directly ahead his motorcycle leaped up from back to front as if something had stopped the front wheel (and something had) and the Motorpsycho flew high into the air, still gripping his sawed-off shotgun, his massive body turning seemingly in slow motion head over heels, followed by his not quite so massive and cartwheeling Harley-Davidson, as all the other Motorpsychos screeched to a halt, watching man and machine flying and turning in a great high arc.

And then the man, bellowing, like a hog, like a man, his bellow resounding from the great sloping wall of the nearby mesa, fell, followed by his still-roaring chopper, all starkly lit by the gang’s headlights, down toward that broad shallow hollow.

One last fiery burst belched out of the man’s shotgun and then he disappeared into the hollow, his howl abruptly ceasing, and then his motorbike followed him, disappearing also and leaving not the slightest trace in the smooth silvery sand.

(Continued here. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find a presumably up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, soon to be a major mini-series event on the Sci-Fi Channel, featuring our cover model Barbara Steele as Hope.)

Friday, January 9, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 118: bargain

In our previous episode of this Woolworth’s Award-winning memoir, our hero Arnold Schnabel -- convalescing after a mental breakdown in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, NJ -- met a strange little man in the men’s room of the Ugly Mug, at approximately 9:41 PM on a hot Saturday night during that fateful August of 1963...

Needless to say I was reluctant to shake his hand. It wasn’t only that he seemed to be a supernatural creature, perhaps malevolent, but I was afraid his fingertip would still be hot from lighting his pipe.

“I, uh, should dry my hands,” I said.

“Oh, yes, of course,” he said, and he puffed on his pipe.

I went the two steps to the towel machine and gave the cloth a tug. It was one of those roller things, with one long continuous roll of towel. I tugged, but no clean cloth would come out of the machine.

“It’s the end of the roll,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Now, normally, you wouldn’t want to dry your hands on a used towel,” said the little man, “but I was the last one to use it, and I assure you there are no germs on my hands. No living germs, anyway. So go right ahead, please.”

I didn’t know what else to do, so I dried my hands on the damp portion of towel that he had used. The cloth gave off a distinct odor of sulphur.

He continued to stand there and watch me as I dried my hands, more thoroughly than I usually do.

“So I heard you went to God’s house,” he said, as if casually.


“Don’t be coy, Arnold. The house on the hill. The big place. God’s house. The word is rife among all the angels, fallen and the other kind.”

I turned and faced him, rubbing my hands for good measure on the sides of my bermuda shorts.

“My friends will be expecting me,” I said.

I took a step to my right to go past him toward the door, but he took a step to his left, blocking my path again.

“What’s it like these days? The house,” he said, cocking his head slightly and smiling.

“I really have to go.”

He took a half step toward me. He was wearing a shimmering pale blue seersucker suit by the way, white shoes, a red bow tie.

“Is it -- nice? The house?”

“Yes,” I said.

He looked like he wanted to hear more about it.

“Really nice, huh?” he asked.

To tell the truth I didn’t want to go into a whole big spiel about how empty the place had been, and about how hard it was to find a bathroom there.

“Yes, it’s a very nice house,” I said. “Now I have to go, I’m afraid.”

“Wait, wait, wait, Arnold. I want to make you an offer. A bargain.”

“So,” I said. “You’re the Devil, then.”

“Oh, I wish.”

“You mean -- you’re not the Devil?”

“I -- I work for the Devil. The ‘capital D’ Devil. I suppose it would be accurate to say I am a devil, lower case, although I much prefer the term ‘fallen angel’, but no, I am not The Devil. I make no such claim.”

“Well, that’s great, mister, but, look --”

“Jack,” he said. “Call me Jack, please.”

“Jack -- I’m not interested in anything you have to offer. Now please step out of my way.”

“And what if I don’t?” he said, smiling again.

“Then I will shove you out of the way,” I said.

“Okay -- very quick then: listen, I’m prepared to offer you eternal youth.”

“But I’m already forty-two,” I said.

“Well, eternal young middle-age.”

“No thanks.”

“Wait. Riches. How about riches?”

“I wouldn’t know what to do with riches,” I said, quite honestly.


“I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.” I said.

“But what if your poems became famous? You could be like Robert Frost. Your poems are as good as his.”


“Ah, vanity! That’s a good first step, Arnold.”

He stuck his pipe in his mouth and puffed on it. It smelled like burning bark.

“Look, forget it,” I said.

“You could read a poem at the president’s inauguration.”

“No thanks,” I said.

“You could meet all sorts of famous people.”

“I just met Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and Joey Bishop and those guys," I said. "It wasn’t that big of a deal."

“God, you’re tough.”

I tried to go around him again, but once more he stepped in my way.

“Okay, look, buddy --” I said.

“Jack. Jack Scratch. But call me Jack.”

“Jack,” I said. “Move.”

“Make me,” he said, smiling brightly. “You’re a lot bigger than I am.”

“I don’t want to hurt you,” I said.

“Then just shove me aside.”

“All right then.”

I put my hand on his shoulder and tried to move him aside but, even though his jacket and his arm felt like seersucker and a human arm, respectively, he was as impossible to budge as a bronze statue set into a concrete pedestal.

“Didn’t know I could do that, did you?” he said. “Now, let me see.” He puffed on his pipe again. It smelled like burning compost. “Don’t care about physical immortality, don’t care about riches, couldn’t give a hoot about success and its trappings, hmm. Must be something you want. Oh, I know, dig this. How about for the rest of your life you can drink as much as you want, and you’ll still get drunk, but you won’t have the slightest hangover.”

“Not at all?”

“Get a good night’s sleep, wake up ready to sing a happy song and run a mile.”

“Well -- what is it you’re asking from me, anyway?”

“Oh, nothing.”

He glanced away.

“Nothing,” I said.

“Not much." He turned his pipe upside down and tapped the ash out with one finger. "A trifle,” he said.

“Then what is it?” I asked.

He blew through the empty pipe, then stuck it in a side pocket.

“It’s uh, when you die -- and look, we can give you a thousand years of life if you want -- hell, make it immortality --”

“When I die -- what?”

“Um, the Devil gets your soul?”

“The main Devil.”

“Right, the capital “D” Devil.”

“Well, that doesn’t seem like such a good deal,” I said. “An eternity in flames.”

“You say that now. Think of drinking all you want tonight, every night, and every day, for the rest of your life. And not a single moment of hangover. Just think about it.”

“No thanks. I’m used to hangovers by now, anyway.”

“Wait. Wait, wait,” he said. “Let’s get back to immortality, Arnold. Think about it. Immortality -- plus, no aging beyond your present age -- and, no hangovers!”

“I don’t know --”

“Okay, how about this, Arnold? Along with the immortality: no sickness of any kind. Now that’s a deal. You can even go back to smoking cigarettes, all you want, all day long, you won’t even have a cough, forget about the Big C. And I’ll toss this in, your breath will always smell as fresh as a baby’s, no matter how many Pall Malls you smoke. The women will love that, believe me.”

He was waving his hands around, as if mere words alone couldn't express the wonderfulness he wanted to express.

“And I get to be immortal,” I said.

“Yes. Absolutely. Here --”

He took a scroll of thick paper out of his inside jacket pocket, and shook it open. It had a lot of fancy handwriting on it, in Latin. The words and letters on the paper swarmed and intermingled like tiny mad bugs.

“I’ll just need your John Hancock on this. A mere formality.”

He took a black feather-quill out of his pocket.

“And we’ll just need to poke this in your arm. It’s got to be signed in blood -- silly I know --”

“Wait,” I said.


He was holding the paper in one hand and the quill in the other.

“If I’m immortal,” I said, “that means I’ll never die, so how can the Devil get my soul?”

“Well, Arnold, when we say immortal, we mean, you know, like, till the end of the earth, and that’s not going to be for millions, probably, I don’t know, how many years -- here, just let me poke your arm --”

“So when mankind dies out, then I’ll die?”

“Well, yeah, technically, but like I say, that’s not going to be for -- you know --”

“What if atomic war broke out tomorrow?” I said. “And life on the planet got wiped out?”

“God, aren’t you Mr. Gloom and Doom.”

“Look, forget it, pal; whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying. And you can tell your boss that personally from me next time you see him.”

He lowered his arms to his sides and looked at the floor.

“Well, I’ve never actually met him,” he said, in a quiet voice.

“You’ve never met the Devil. Even though you’re a devil.”

He looked up, sheepishly, from under one crooked eyebrow.

“I’ve been to the porch of his house. On more than a few occasions I’ve been to the porch of his house, or at least to the steps leading up to the porch. One time I was even let into his foyer for half an hour, when I was waiting for a message to deliver to Adolph Hitler. But, no, I’ve never actually met him. I have not had that honor. Not yet.”

“Some honor.”

“Don’t knock it. You got to go into God’s house, and you’re only a human, not even an angel.”

“Yeah, well --”

“And now I’ve got to go back, and, you should pardon the expression, catch hell for not getting you to come to terms.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

Sorry. Fat lot of good that does me. Typical human. All you care about is yourself.”

“Yeah, well, can I get past now, please.”

“Oh, all right.”

He stepped aside.

I started to go again, and he said:

“I like your lady friend by the way.”

I stopped. And I stared at him.

“Oh, Christ, Arnold, relax. I was only making an observation.”

“Well, all right then,” I said. “But stay away from her.”

“Or you’ll what?”

“Don’t you worry about what I’ll do,” I said, which didn’t really make much sense now that I think about it.

“Oh, I get it,” he said.

Well, at least that’s one of us, I thought.

“I get it,” he said. “You’re threatening me with your pal Jesus, are you? Well, look, don’t worry, I’m not authorized to deal with her anyway. Jews have their own devils.”

“Well, okay then,” I said.

“Arnold, wait.”

“Now what.”

“Immortality for the life of the earth. And then, get this, we transfer you to another planet, a planet just like earth in its prime, and you get to be immortal for the life of that planet too. And no hangovers --”

He held out the contract and the quill.

“Goodbye,” I said, and I headed for the door.

“Arnold!” he called, but I was already out of there.

(Go here for our next infernal chapter. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page for an allegedly up-to-date listing of all other possible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, soon to be a major mini-series event from Masterpiece Theatre, starring Daniel Craig as Arnold Schnabel and Paul Giamatti as Jack Scratch.)

Surfin’ Bird:

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 112: cowboy

Larry Winchester (“the Shakespeare of our age, but less boring than Shakespeare” -- Harold Bloom) now turns the unsparing lens of his Panavision eye on the rancher Big Jake Johnstone and the town physician Doc Goldwasser, driving across the dark atomic-bombed desert not too many miles from A Town Called Disdain.

(Click here to see our previous chapter. Today’s episode rated EP for excessive pulp.)

Big Jake was scared shitless as he drove the Cadillac slowly nearer to the lights and shooting, feeling like the scared little rich kid he always was deep down -- and not so deep down, either -- and he really wanted just to turn back and go home, or at least go to Burt’s for a beer, or to Mel’s Photographic Arts Studio for a blowjob and a beer, but he didn’t want the Doc to think he was a coward, or rather -- since he knew the Doc knew he was a coward -- put better, he was afraid to act the coward, even though he was a coward. And so one fear outweighed another and here he was acting seemingly courageously while he was damn near shitting his trousers in terror.

The Doc for his part had the opium working well now in his bloodstream and his brain, the weird internal voices and noises had gone away, there was only this world, this life, maybe it would end in a few minutes, maybe it wouldn’t.

Jake stopped the car. They were maybe a half mile from the circling lights and the shooting.

“Y’know what, Doc? Just remembered I got me a pair of bi-noculars in here somewheres. Let’s just take a little gander ‘fore we go any closer.”

Jake popped open the glove compartment, pushed aside the latest issue of Playboy, a couple of packs of Marlboros, three fat joints of fine Panama Red, a half-consumed pint of Old Forester, half a roll of Lifesavers, numerous traffic and parking tickets from other towns that he hadn’t gotten around to getting Sheriff Dooley to fix yet, and finally he pulled out a pair of German army field-glasses, left over from the lucrative Nazi souvenir business he had run back in ’44 and ’45 while posted as a supply sergeant in Paris.

Jake lifted up his hat, looped the binoculars strap over his head, and then pulled his hat back on, tilted a bit to the back. As he put the glasses to his eyes and adjusted the lenses he thought back to those good old days and the fortune he had amassed in girls and in black market goods during the war. Yep, V-E Day certainly had been a cause for celebration for a lot of folks and he had to admit he’d made quite a penny that day himself with his booze concession at the OSS officer’s club, but it had also spelled the beginning of the end of one of the best goddamned money-making set-ups he was ever to have. Why, by May of ’45 he had over a hundred people in his employ, not only regular GIs but deserters, Kraut PWs, Limeys, Frenchies and DPs, and this weren’t even counting a stable of twenty-five to thirty fine fillies of all nationalities and faiths --


“What is it,” said the Doc.

“That looks like Miss Enid’s truck. And it’s got them damn Motorpsychos circlin’ around it and firin’ guns like a pack of wild Injuns.”

The Doc sat and watched Jake adjusting the binoculars.

“Shit, damn, and pigfuck.”

Jake lowered the glasses and turned to the Doc.

“That’s my baby girl in that truck. Her and Miss Enid.”

The gunfire continued.

“We gotta go in there, Doc,” said Jake.

The Doc just looked at Jake.

“We got to, don’t we?” asked Jake.

“You up for it?”

“Up for it? Sure I am. Sure I am. What we do, what we do is, we just drive right in there, drive in, drive on in, drive right on in there and get, get, get my daughter, and, and Miss Enid too, and just drive right on outa there, drive on, drive right on outa there, I ain’t ascared, I ain’t ascared of them Motorpsychos,” said Jake. “They wouldn’t do nothin’ to me.”

The Doc knew that Big Jake did drug business with the Motorpsychos.

“And,” said Jake, “and, and, they give, give, give us any trouble I ain’t, I ain’t ascared to use this-chyere Colt neither.”

He patted the bulge under his arm where the gun was and the Doc saw the sweat staining right through the jacket material.

“All right,” said the Doc. “Let me take the wheel then. I’ll drive, you wave that thing around if you have to.”

“Yeah,” said Big Jake, “sure.”

And he opened his door and got out of the car and shut the door, then walked around the front, weaving just a little, like a drunk man trying to act sober. He looked very pale in the starlight.

The Doc slid over to the driver’s seat. Big Jake got in the other side, breathing heavy and sweating and licking his lips. The binoculars hung around Jake’s neck, moving up and down with the heaving of his big gut. Jake reached his right hand down past his gut and rearranged his balls. He rolled his shoulders and his head and then took his hat off and wiped his sleeve on his forehead and ran his hand through his crewcut. He lifted the binoculars strap up over his head and shoved the binoculars back into the glove compartment. He tried to shut the glove compartment but part of the strap was still hanging out. He said “Fuck fuck fuck” and pushed the strap into the compartment, then slammed it shut. He sat back and fanned himself rapidly a few times with his hat and then put it on backwards. He took out his gun again and checked the cylinder. His hands were shaking.

“Your hat’s on backwards, Jake.”

“Oh. Thanks, Doc.”

He turned the hat around.

“Get your shit together, Jake.”

“I’m tryin’, Doc.”

The Doc put the car in gear.
“Do me a favor, Jake, will ya?”

“Yes, sir, Doc.”

Jake’s eyes were wide, he was sweating like a pig in the cool air, his teeth chattered audibly.

“Just keep that cannon pointed away from me.”

The Doc stepped on the gas and they pulled out.

Jake squirmed in his seat, holding the pistol with both hands across his massive chest.

“Jake,” said the Doc, “point the gun away from me.”

“Yes, sir,” said Jake, obviously not really hearing what the Doc said. “Yes, sir. Yes sirree, sir, Bob, sir. Bring it on. Bring it on down, bring it on down the line, with a dosey doe, and a whoopty-do, bring it on home, yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes.”

“Jake,” said the the Doc, much louder, “point the fucking gun away from me.”

“Woops!” blubbered Jake, “Yes, sir.” He pointed the gun rigidly upward, his elbow against his gut. “Firearm safety! Firearm -- man-stopper! Colt .45. Gun that tamed the wild west. Don’t point it at a man unless, unless, unless -- oh shit. Oh shit, Doc, we gotta stop. We gotta stop, Doc.”

The Doc stopped the car.

“What is it, Jake?”

“Doc, this is real embarrassin’, real embarrassin’, but, but, I gotta, I gotta --”

“What? Take a shit?”

Jake pulsed up and down on his seat like an excited sea lion.

“Yeah,” he rasped. “I gotta go, Doc.”

“Here,” said the Doc. He took his little brown bottle out of his jacket pocket. “Take a couple swigs of this.”

“That gonna help?”

“It should. I only shit about every other day, myself.”

“Gimme it.”

Jake put his pistol on the dashboard, took the bottle, unscrewed the cap, took three good swigs and then sat back with his eyes closed.

The Doc lit up a smoke and gave Jake a minute.

Up ahead the motorcyclists still swirled around the stopped truck, their weapons flashed and popped into the night, like firecrackers, like guns.

The Doc looked over at Jake. The big man’s breathing had calmed, his eyes were closed, he was no longer streaming with sweat.

“How ya feelin’, Jake.”

Jake opened his eyes.

“Feelin’ good, Doc. Feelin’ good. Floatin’.”

“Give me that bottle before you spill it.”

Jake slowly held out the bottle and the cap, and the Doc took them and capped the bottle.

“Still gotta shit?”

“No,” said Jake. “No, I think I got my bowels under control now, Doc, thank ya.”

“Don’t mention it.” The Doc put the bottle away in his jacket and put the car in gear again. “All right, Jake, better grab your gun. It’s cowboy time.”

“That’s right, Doc. That’s right.”

Jake slowly picked his gun up off the dashboard and held it, pointing straight ahead, in both untrembling hands.

(Continued here. Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find an allegedly up-to-date listing of links to all other published episodes of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™. Stocking up already for next year’s stocking-stuffers? Be sure to buy some Town Called Disdain™ Action Figures, now marked down another 75%, exclusively at Kresges 5&10s. Cash only, all sales final.)


Ah, yes, cats and kittens, it’s that time of the year, that time which has been obsessing us since the last time it came around -- The Weblogs Awards!

A few of our favorite blogs have somehow bobbed to the surface of the sea of idiocy and mediocrity that is the Internets, and have made it, bloody but unbowed, to the hallowed ranks of the finalists.

You can vote once a day for each award for the next week or so. Do the wretched world a favor and vote as often as you can for these sterling blogsters in their various categories:

For Best Literature Blog who else but the lovely and brilliant Kathleen Maher of Diary of a Heretic?

For Best Individual Blogger, go punch one out for my fellow Killadelphian, The Field Negro.

For Best Humor Blog, get up off your ass for Jon Swift.

And, finally, for Best Diarist, give it up for Blue Girl. If she comes in last we’ll never hear the goddam end of it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"Phineas Barton: Assassin for the CIA "

Phineas Barton: Assassin for the CIA (unrated director's cut) (1964; B&W; 79 min.; Roddy McDowall, Anna Karina, Tab Hunter, Sue Lyon, Herbert Lom; music by Ennio Morricone; written by Larry Winchester and Arnold Schnabel; directed by Larry Winchester).

It is with great pleasure that we report the long-awaited home video release of this legendary thriller, previously shown in the USA only in the early winter of 1964, on a double bill with Larry Winchester’s (still sadly unavailable) Two for Tortuga.

Roddy McDowall, in a rare leading role, plays the title character of the suave hitman who is targeted by the agency after he learns just a little too much about the private sexual peccadilloes of the President. Soon Phineas Barton plays a deadly cat-and-mouse game through the back alleys of Paris with his old friend and fellow trained killer Lance Smith (Tab Hunter). Will the lovely East German agent Marlene (Anna Karina) help her old nemesis Phineas, or will she cash in on the million dollar bounty on our hero’s head? And is that charming student Missy (Sue Lyon) quite as innocent as she seems? What is the true motivation of Phineas's "handler" Mr. Krang (Herbert Lom)? Buy this budget-priced actioner (on Region One DVD and Blu-ray, from Ha! Karate Entertainment of Yokohama) available exclusively at Ross "Dress For Less", and find out. Featuring commentary by Larry Winchester and a special featurette, I Remember Arnold, in which Larry reminisces about his friendship and collaboration with the beloved poet and memoirist Arnold Schnabel.
 Purchase this movie now and receive a DVD (Region Two only) of Larry Winchester's Yesterday Never Comes (AKA  Leri Non Viene Mai!) (1965; Lex Barker, Capucine, Fernando Rey) for half price.

(Check out the lower right hand column of this page for a listing of links to appreciations of many other fine films from Larry Winchester.* Be sure also to avail yourself of our ongoing serialization of Larry’s epic novel A Town Called Disdain.)

*”...all the visual brilliance of Welles, the depth of Bergman, the pathos of Fellini, and the humor of Jerry Lewis; and much less boring than all of the above.” -- Rex Reed

And now a brief word from Mr. Wilson Pickett:

Friday, January 2, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 117: the little man

Holidays finally over, grim reality returning with the grey cold days of January, it is with a great sigh of relief that we return to these memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, for whom -- at least during that momentous August of 1963 in Cape May, NJ -- every day was a holiday.

In our previous episode, Arnold was having drinks at the Ugly Mug with his inamorata, the ravishing bohemian Elektra, and his friend and collaborator, the famed cinéaste, littérateur, and bon vivant Larry Winchester...

She was still deep in conversation with Larry, both of them leaning in toward the other’s face as the music and the chatter and laughter swirled around them and me. I couldn’t make out a word they were saying.

And then Elektra did a nice thing -- she reached her right hand behind her and put it on my knee. I in my turn put my hand on hers, and she squeezed my knee, just slightly, as if it were a tomato on a grocer’s shelf...

My faithful reader will be thrilled to know that I now realized that I had to go to the bathroom. It felt as if I had already gone at least twenty-five times that day, but in fact I hadn’t gone since leaving my aunts’ house an hour and a half before, so here it was, inevitably, time to go once again.

Sometimes it seems it’s hardly worth the trouble drinking anything, even water, it only means that sooner or later you have to stop doing whatever you’re doing, or not doing, and drag yourself up and go wearily in search of a toilet again.

It’s tedious enough going to the men’s room in a bar under the best circumstances, but now -- with Larry’s mushrooms, as I just now realized, having somehow dissolved the usually impregnable borders between my own self and the rest of the universe pulsing and throbbing within the four walls and the floor and ceiling of this crowded and smoky noise-filled bar -- now the thought of going to the men’s room seemed as daunting as a trek through the Amazonian rain forest.

Would that I could discreetly do what I had once witnessed an old fellow do at Pat’s Tavern back in Olney, to wit, pull down my zipper and, whistling a merry tune, calmly relieve myself right where I sat.

But that wouldn’t do.

And so, with a pat on Elektra’s hand on my knee, I pushed my stool back a bit without knocking it over, and stood up without falling down.

Elektra swiveled round on her stool.

“Where you going, lover?”

I don’t think I’ve ever actually come right out and told a woman, not even my mother, that I was going to the bathroom, and I wasn’t about to start now. I made some sort of shrugging, slightly apologetic and falsely casual dumbshow, and Elektra quickly either got the drift or got bored, said, “Oh, okay,” and returned to her conversation with Larry, who had seemed paused in the midst of a long sentence and which he now resumed.

I set sail, past St. Thomas Becket, who now just looked like any other middle-aged drunk dozing at a bar, which he most likely was, and coolly I made it past the musicians and rounded the curved end of the bar, negotiated past the clattering kitchen window and past the cigarette machine and into the hallway we had entered by.

In what seemed like mere moments, and in fact what must have been mere moments, I was at the men’s room door; I pushed it, it opened, and there I was. So far so good.

There were two urinals, both free, and I went to the farther one.

I unzipped, and with only a modicum of fumbling I managed to bring it out.

Could it be? Would I actually be able to micturate and then to return to my barstool without incident or misadventure?

A small balding man of about fifty came into the men’s room, and of course I turned my gaze solidly to the smoke-yellowed tiled wall in front of me.

The little man took the urinal next to me, on my right.

I’ve always hated these situations. If guys would just keep to themselves it wouldn’t be so bad, but rarely is this the case. I don’t know what it is about me that makes men think I am someone to talk to at urinals. Maybe I’m not singled out this way, maybe it happens to everyone, I don’t know, all I know is that nearly every guy who stands next to me in a urinal talks to me, or at me, or at any rate talks in my presence, usually accompanied by grunts and groans and deep sighs of urinative relief.

“Ah, boy,” said the little man, with a sigh.

I said nothing.

I could clearly hear him urinate, but my own previously ready-to-go bladder now refused to co-operate.

“Ah, boy,” he said again, and I could tell he was now looking up and over at me.

He seemed to want some sort of response.

“Boy oh boy oh boy oh boy,” he said, and then grunted.

My urine remained trapped in my bladder.

“You pee-shy?” he asked suddenly.

I sighed, staring straight at the wall.

“Normally, no,” I said.

“Oh, it’s me,” he said. “I bother you?”

“No,” I lied.

“Good of you to say so.”

He was still urinating away, and now he began to murmur wordlessly.

I waited.

After a minute he finally finished, and with a few final sighs and grunts he zipped up.

“I’ll be out of your way now, Arnold.”

He went over towards the wash basin, and as he turned on the faucet my bladder finally relented and I began to pee.

But wait, how did he know my name?

“Of course I know your name, Arnold,” he said.

I refused to turn and look at him. I only wanted to finish what I was doing and get out of there.

I heard him pulling on the the hand-towel machine, humming as he did so. He was humming “Fly Me to the Moon”.

I finally finished, and zipped up, but the guy was standing over by the sink again, combing his hair, what little there was of it.

I headed for the door.

“I’m through with the sink,” he said, just as I was about to leave without washing my hands.

“Oh, okay, thanks,” I said.

He stepped back a little ways, but not very far, and I went to the sink.

I pumped out some detergent, turned on the faucet, and then saw that there was no one in the mirror behind me.

I turned and there he was, smiling, putting the finishing touches on his hair, which he had carefully arranged in delicate black swirls across his bald pate.

I looked back into the mirror and he was gone again.

“Mirrors cannot capture me, Arnold.”

Now it was my turn to sigh, as I set to work quickly washing my hands.

I turned off the tap, and I was about to go for the exit again without bothering with the towel machine when suddenly he was standing between me and the door.

“Jack’s the name,” he said, lighting a pipe he had taken out from somewhere, and using his index fingertip for a match. “Jack Scratch.” Having lit his tobacco, he blew the flame from his fingertip, then extended his hand, a wisp of smoke still rising from the fingertip. “At your service, sir.”

(Continued here. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page for a purportedly up-to-date listing of all other published episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, third-place prize-winner of the Rick Warren Purpose-Driven Book Award.)

Elizabeth Cotten: