Tuesday, March 10, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 128: Dick in love

Arnold Schnabel: as expansive as Whitman, as mad as Rimbaud, as attuned to the multifarious meaning of each moment of existence as Proust, and as American as Mom’s apple pie, warm from the oven.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Bonnie Hunt Show.

Our previous episode of this Old Spice Award-nominated memoir culminated in Arnold and his friend Dick Ridpath clasping hands outside the entrance to the Ugly Mug, that popular watering-hole in the port of Cape May, New Jersey, at approximately 10:22 PM on the 10th of August, 1963…

He seemed reluctant to let go of my hand.

“Arnold,” he said.


“Can I talk to you about -- about something?”

Okay, I thought. He’s going to talk about the Mr. Arbuthnot business. About stepping through a spinning globe of the earth and into a world where we were as invisible as ghosts. About dropping into a single frozen moment through the Book of Time, and, once there, to bear witness to the near-destruction of the world by Mr. Arbuthnot’s cat, Shnoopy.

In other words: proof that I was not mad?

“Sure, Dick,” I said. “Anything. Anything at all.”

“I can’t stop thinking about what you told me last night,” he said.

Last night seemed like a year ago.

“What was that, Dick?” I asked.

“About Daphne,” he said.


“About her being in love with me.”

“Oh, right.”

He was still gripping my hand, and his grip was quite strong.

“Dick,” I dared say. “My hand.”

“Oh my God, I’m sorry.”

He let go of my hand. Some people came out of the bar just then, and Dick gently put his hand on my arm, guiding me out of their way.


“Yes, Dick?”

“I’m thirty-three years old. I’ve been all over the world. I’ve been to war. I’ve -- seen a lot of things --”

He paused.

“Take this a minute, will you?”

He handed me the box with the doll in it, then he took out his cigarette case and his lighter.

“I’m smoking entirely too much,” he said, taking out a cigarette, closing the case, tapping the cigarette on the lid of the case.

He stared up the street, in the direction of Mr. Arbuthnot’s shop, the church, and beyond that the Acme parking lot, across which diagonally was Pete’s Tavern. He pocketed the cigarette case, lit his cigarette, glanced at me shyly and briefly.

“Did she talk about me today?”



“A little,” I said.

He looked at me full on.

“It’s okay, Dick,” I said. “She’ll wait for you. Until you’re ready. And until she’s ready.”

“Right,” he said.

“Right,” I said.

Not that I knew I was right, or even had any idea what right was.

“I’m acting like an idiot,” he said. “What’s so special about her? She’s just a girl, like a million others.”

“No,” I said, after honestly thinking about it a moment.



“No,” he said. “No, she’s not, is she?”

“No,” I said.

“So I’m not insane to be so madly in love with her?”

“You might be insane,” I said. “Not that I’m any person to judge. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing for you to be madly in love with her. Even if you are insane.”

He looked at me.

“Okay, I’m going now,” he said.

But he stood there, holding his cigarette.

“Have a good night, Dick.”

“I have to go back to the, uh, to the base, day after tomorrow,” he said. “But I don’t want to. I want to resign my commission. I want to take her -- Daphne -- take her away, find some island, live on the beach.”

I said nothing.

“But somehow I know that wouldn’t be the thing to do,” he said.

“No,” I said.

“I don’t think we’re meant to live idyllic lives. What do you think, Arnold?”

“I’m not so sure we’re meant to do anything,” I said.

“I should go,” he said, after staring at me for three seconds. “I’m boring you.”

“You should go so that you can be with Daphne,” I said.

He stared at me again.

Then he turned and walked away, crossing the street, walking quickly, tossing his cigarette into the gutter.

I stood there and watched him go, merging into all the other people walking on the sidewalk, all of them trying to enjoy their lives, I stood there and watched, I don't know why, and then I saw Dick cross Washington Street at the end of the block.

Then I realized that I was still holding the grey cardboard box with the doll in it.

But by this time Dick had already disappeared beyond the corner of the church, he would be jaywalking across Ocean Street, going diagonally across the Acme parking lot, past the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and across Jefferson Street to Pete’s, to the girl he loved.

Should I run after him?

But then by what law had I to run, rather than walk?

But if I walked rather than ran then I’d have to go into Pete’s again to give Dick the doll. Who knows what else would happen there, or even on the way there? I might never make it back to the Ugly Mug this night. And after all Elektra was still waiting for me, presumably.

No. Enough madness for one night.

I would keep the doll for Dick, give it to him tomorrow at Mrs. Biddle’s. That was the sensible thing to do.

Then the top of the box pushed open.

The little dark-haired, dark-eyed doll in the Victorian costume had pushed the lid off. I held the lid in my free hand to keep it from falling to the pavement.

“That’s right, Arnold,” she said. “You can give me to Dick tomorrow. Now let’s go inside. I’m interested to meet these friends of yours. All right, now close the lid. Let’s get a move on.”

I put the lid back on the box.

(Go here for our next spine-tingling chapter. Please see the right hand column of this page to find an allegedly complete list of links to all other published episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, soon to be a major motion picture from Metro Goldwyn Mayer, starring Tyrone Power as Arnold Schnabel and Robert Walker as Dick.)


Jennifer said...

Then the top of the box pushed open.

Oh of course it did! She's evil!!

And...after Dick said, "I’ve been to war. I’ve -- seen a lot of things...",I have expected him to break into this... of course this song came out many years later... but since when has logic and linear time ever applied to Arnold or those in his life...

Dan Leo said...

Perfect song choice, Jen. Now there's a slam from the past!

Unknown said...

I had forgotten that once upon a time men claimed to "lose their hearts" for women. Now everyone's so blase. To see Dick so eager and bashful astonished me.

Beautiful song (new appreciation of Chet Baker for me) but men singing passionate love songs comes down to a stellar performance. Dick didn't act like he was playing; his behavior surprised him as much as anyone.

Unknown said...

I shouldn't have read this before bed--now I'm going to have nightmares!
Great video though. We saw a documentary about Chet Baker that came out 10, 15 years ago: "Let's Get Lost." Have you seen it? Worth a Netflix rental. Or if it's playing at your local drive-in.

Dan Leo said...

I'm a big fan of Chet, and, yeah, I did see "Let's Get Lost" some time ago -- beautiful and very sad. Chet's one of those guys I'd rather listen to than think about what a mess his life was. But there's a whole great category of artists whose work was about the only thing in their lives that wasn't a mess.

Anonymous said...

i'ma skeert