Friday, April 10, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 134: Ithaca

Our previous chapter of this Gold View Award-winning memoir closed with its hero Arnold Schnabel -- freshly shriven by Father Reilly, and carrying the loquacious doll Clarissa safely in her cardboard box under his arm -- trying once again to get back to the Ugly Mug and his friends therein, at approximately 10:42 PM on the night of August the 10th, 1963, in the quaint seaport of Cape May, NJ...

I let this remark pass without response. She wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know.

I continued on down Washington Street.

“By the way, why are you limping?” she asked.

“I had a fall today,”* I whispered. “But I’m fine.”

“Oh good. Now, tell me about this lady friend of yours.”

“Look,” I said, trying to keep my voice low but audible while trying not to move my lips, in other words, sounding and acting like a madman, “I can’t really talk to you like this while I’m walking on the street.”

“Oh, but you’re such a stick-in-the-mud, Arnold! No one’s going to notice you. It’s Saturday night for God’s sake. Everyone’s quite merry and jolly!”

“Listen,” I said. On the other hand perhaps passersby took me not for a lunatic but merely for an incompetent ventriloquist practicing his act. “I just don’t want to get sent back to the nut-house. Understand?”

“Oh, but do tell me, what is this business of your being committed? Did you really go insane?”

“Yes,” I gasped.

“Not very pleasant I suppose.”


We had come to Mr. Arbuthnot’s shop. I quickened my pace.

“And was it the insanity that was unpleasant or the 'nut-house' as you call it?”

No one else was very nearby, so I answered as truly as I could manage.

“The insanity was something I learned to get used to. But I couldn’t get used to the hospital.”

“And so you did what you could to get out?”

“Yes,” I said.

I was getting a sore face from trying not to move my lips, but at least now we had come to the northern corner of Decatur and Washington. Catercorner across the street was the Ugly Mug, my Ithaca. I started across Washington with the light.

“And you determined never to go back, didn’t you, Arnold?”

“Well, let’s say I determined to try not to go back,” I said.

“No matter how mad you became?”

“My daily goal is not to become that mad,” I whispered.

By now I was across Washington, waiting for the light to change on Decatur. The Ugly Mug waited welcomely there right across the street. The light changed and I stepped off the curb.

“Now please stop talking, Clarissa, we’re getting ready to go into the bar.”

“I so love it when you call me Clarissa.”


“Oh, mum’s the word!”

Believe it or not I made it across the street and to the entrance to the Mug, finally, and opened the door.

“So we’re here then?” she piped.

“Yes, now --”

“Oh, Arnold, who are you talking to?”

It was that Jack Scratch fellow, and with him was St. Thomas Becket.

“No one,” I said.

“Talking to yourself, Arnold?” said St. Thomas.

“I guess so.”

“We were just heading on over to Pete’s Tavern to score some gage,” said Jack Scratch.

I noticed that the little bumps on either side of his forehead had become more pronounced.

“Well, good luck,” I said.

“Would you like some? Some muggles? It’s probably not great shit, but --”

“No thanks,” I said.

“What’s in the box, Arnold?” said St. Thomas. He seemed much drunker than when I’d left.

We were all still standing in the doorway, St. Thomas holding the door open.

“It’s a doll,” I said.

“A doll? Win it playing skee-ball?”

“No. It’s -- yes, yes,” I said, “I’m sorry, yes, I won it at skee-ball.”

“Brilliant,” said Mr. Scratch. “Come on, Tom, let’s go, I feel like getting baked.”

“Okay,” said St. Thomas. I noticed the top of his head was slightly awry again, from when he'd had it chopped off in his martyrdom. “Catch you later, Arnold.”

“Yeah, later, guys,” I said, and finally they went out.

“Who were those two weirdos?” she asked.

Fortunately it was very noisy and crowded in the bar. The band was offstage but the jukebox was playing “Blame it on the Bossa Nova”, very loud.

“One of them was St. Thomas Becket,” I said.

“Oh, right.”

“And the other was a fellow named Jack Scratch.”

I know him!

“I’m sure you do,” I said. “Now, look, I’m going down to join my friends now, so clam up.”

I could see them, still there in that booth near the small bandstand; there was Steve, gesticulating as vigorously as an orchestra conductor in mid-symphony, Miss Rathbone smoking and looking at him --

“All right, Arnold,” said Clarissa, “all right. God, you’re such a broken gramophone record!”

Elektra had moved over to the seat I had vacated next to Larry, and both she and Larry at least seemed to be listening to whatever it was Steve was saying.

“I’ll keep quiet,” said Clarissa, “but you have to take me out of the box.”

“I will,” I said, doing my bad Edgar Bergen impersonation, again, and I headed down the bar to my friends.

By the way,” she said, “I don’t think you’re insane.

Great,” I whispered.

Finally I reached the booth.

Noticing me, Steve stopped himself in mid-sentence and mid-gesticulation, and his eyes widened.

“Arthur! The prodigal son! Returneth!”

Miss Rathbone, Elektra and Larry all turned to look up at me.

“Arthur, we thought you had been captured!” said Steve. “By the evil people!”

“His name’s Arnold, Steve,” said Miss Rathbone, lowering his upraised arm with a gentle hand.

Arnold!” said Steve.

Elektra put her hand on my side, looking up at me, and I felt my heart swoon, although I managed to remain standing or not to float away.

“Hey, lover, you made it back,” she said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Sorry I took so long.”

“Wasn’t all that long.”

It sure felt long, but I suppose she was right, in normal human time I suppose I had only been gone a half hour or so.

“What’s in the box?" she asked. "Sit down.”

She moved over, closer to Larry, and I sat down, with the box on my lap.

I took the lid off straight away because I didn’t want Clarissa to start complaining.

* See Episode 82.

(Go here for our next thrilling episode. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find what very well might possibly be an up-to-date list of links to all other extant chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™; grateful thanks to the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia, PA.)


Unknown said...

It's always a happy day when Arnold's odyssey brings him back if only for an interlude to Elektra. For even if his astonishing adventures only take half an hour here, half an hour there, Elektra's patient nature is rare and beautiful, even I would guess among 1960s bohemians.
Trying to behave likewise, I won't say another thing about the cherished Clarissa.

Anonymous said...

“And the other was a fellow named Jack Scratch.”

“I know him!”

Funny touch.

Goodtime Samaritan said...

"I took the lid off straight away because I didn’t want Clarissa to start complaining."

Arnold's learning.

Jennifer said...

“And the other was a fellow named Jack Scratch.”

“I know him!”

... of course she does.