Friday, February 6, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 123: the watcher

Previously in this critically lauded memoir* our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend Dick Ridpath found themselves granted the power of invisible observation thanks to the mysterious globe of the old shop-keeper Mr. Arbuthnot, at approximately 9:59 PM on the sultry evening of August 10, 1963, in the then still quaint and even slightly weatherworn seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey...

*“Like A Million Little Pieces but without the bad words” -- Oprah Winfrey

Mr. and Mrs. DeVore followed hard on Miss Evans’s heels, the both of them skipping to catch up with her brisk pace.

“Well, it looks like our little maneuver succeeded,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

And Dick and I both stared wide-eyed as a great fat man in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt came barreling down the sidewalk headed straight for Mr. Arbuthnot, but, instead of trampling him underfoot like a hippo, he instead rolled right through him as though Mr. Arbuthnot were nothing but a colored shadow.

Mr. Arbuthnot chuckled at our expressions as he drew a miniature Meerschaum pipe from his side jacket pocket.

“Yes, my friends, we are not only invisible and inaudible, but immaterial. By the way,” he took a leather tobacco pouch from his opposite jacket pocket, “we’re still able to enjoy the pleasures of the leaf in this state of being, so – smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.”

Even though Dick had just put out a cigarette he took out his cigarette case, clicked it open and offered its contents to me.

I sighed.

Dick looked at me quizzically.

“I decided to quit today,” I said.

“Oh, good for you, Arnold,” said Dick, taking a cigarette for himself, “I’m going to kick these some day,” and he snapped the case shut and dropped it back into his pocket before I could say what I meant to say, i.e., “But I’ll have just one now.”

Mr. Arbuthnot tamped some tobacco into the bowl of his pipe with his little finger.

“Would you fellows like to take a little walk around?”

Dick lit his cigarette with his scuffed Ronson lighter, and as he did so he stepped aside for a passing young couple, even though there was no need to.

“Is that what you do then, Mr. Arbuthnot?" asked Dick. "Walk around, look at people?”

He offered his light to Mr. Arbuthnot, but the old man shook his head.

“No thank you, I always use matches with my pipe.”

He took out a box of wooden matches, and set to work lighting his pipe with quick piping little inhalations.

Dick and I glanced at each other, but said nothing.

“Yes. I walk around,” said the old man. “I observe people. Listen to them. Watch them.”

“And what’s that like?” asked Dick.

“Truth to tell, it’s awfully boring most of the time,” said the old fellow. “The things people talk about. The things they do. It’s as if they thought they had all the time in the world to fritter their lives away on nonsense. But sometimes – sometimes it gets interesting. Usually in a rather lurid way I’m afraid. You know, I’m far too old to avail myself of the more carnal pleasures of life, but – sometimes I watch.”

“You watch people –” started Dick.

“Yes, I’ll admit it, like a fly on the wall, like God, or one of his angels, I watch as people huff and puff through what seems of the utmost importance to them at the time.” He took a few thoughtful-seeming puffs on his pipe. “But then of course without all this huffing and puffing none of us would be here, would we? Let’s take a walk, gentlemen. Let’s see what we can see. A fight? A love scene? Or if not love at least a scene of drunken lust?”

“It’s tempting,” said Dick, “but Arnold’s lady friend is waiting for him. Right, Arnold?"
"Yes," I said.

“Oh, yes. Galateia," said Mr. Arbuthnot. I didn't bother correcting him. "Yes, hubba," he said. "But perhaps you, Mr. Ridpath – perhaps you --”

“Some other time maybe, Mr. Arbuthnot.”

“Oh, you probably want to meet up with Mrs. Biddle’s granddaughter. Agatha is it?”

“Daphne,” said Dick.

“Daphne. Yes.” Mr. Arbuthnot puffed on his pipe, looking away, looking at the people coming and going on the street. “All as it should be. Your lot to live life, mine to watch it.”

“So,” said Dick, “not to rush you, Mr. Arbuthnot, but how do we get back?”

“You have never left, my young friend. You and Mr. Schnabel are still standing before my globe, as am I. We here now are spiritual projections of ourselves.”

“I suspected as much,” said Dick. “So, uh, can we go back now?”

“Oh, yes, of course, pardon me. Okay, close your eyes, very tightly, and imagine yourself back in my living room, staring at the globe. Are you doing it?”

“Yes,” said Dick.

Dick indeed was standing there with his eyes tight closed, as was Mr. Arbuthnot.

“And you too, Mr. Schnabel?”

“Yes?” I said.

“Do you have your eyes closed tightly?”

“Oh, no, sorry,” I said, and I closed them.

“Good,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “They’re closed tight now?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“Okay. Imagining the globe?”

“Imagine the globe?”

“Yes,” he said, slightly shortly. “Visualize the globe in your mind, at the same spot you were staring at before.”

“Okay,” I said.

“You’re doing it? Eyes closed, imagining the globe?”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“And Mr. Ridpath?”

“I have had my eyes shut and I have been imagining the globe,” said Dick. “Already.”

“Good,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “Now everyone, open their eyes.”

We opened our eyes, and we were back in Mr. Arbuthnot’s apartment, staring at his old globe.

(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™, soon to be boiled down to a 90-minute live broadcast on the DuMont Television Network’s Cavalcade of Stars, hosted by Sid Caesar, starring Ernest Borgnine as Arnold and featuring the Pete Condoli Orchestra with the Mitch Miller Singers and the June Taylor Dancers.)

The Exciters:


Unknown said...

Lonely Mr. Arbuthnot--my guess is he chose his existence, though.

Arnold and Dick make such a great team. I wonder if they realize it?
Please don't say, it's just the 'shrooms. I won't believe it.

Anonymous said...

This is a really good installment.

Dan Leo said...

Y'know, Kathleen, I agree, Dick and Arnold are a cool team. And, nah, it can't be just the shrooms. (I think.)

Reader, you're very kind.

Unknown said...

Ah,to be invisible, inaudible, immaterial, be able to enjoy the pleasures of the leaf!

Jennifer said...

"Your life to live, mine to watch"... spooky.

You know, this is the first installment I read where I imagined a laugh track with it... not sure why.

I also love your choice of song, but half expected to hear Frank singing, "Call me invisible, call me inaudible, throw in immaterial, too!"

Anonymous said...

If it doesn't become a film one day I'll be pissed!

Dan Leo said...

Manny, I'll meet you down at Mr. Arbuthnot's Whatnot Shoppe...

Jen, you catch Arnold's subtle humor. Even I was chuckling slightly at this one. (And didn't Frank sing that song on an obscure B-side?)

Dino, get Marty Scorsese on the horn! (Or David Lynch?)

Anonymous said...

Also have been enjoying the Harold Bloom, Oprah, etc. review quotes with each post.

Dan Leo said...

Thanks, Anon (and special thanks also to Professor Bloom and to Ms. Winfrey).

Anonymous said...

I like 'shrooms. A lot.