Friday, May 29, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 142: just one

Previously in this Gold View Award©-winning memoir, our hero Arnold Schnabel (having freed himself of that capricious and larcenous doll Clarissa) paused, cigarette packet in hand, at the head of some steps leading down from the boardwalk in Cape May, NJ, on this warm night in August, 1963...

“Are you going to smoke one of those, or are you just torturing yourself?”

It was him. Josh. He was still in his beach-bum attire, the wrinkled khakis, the faded Oxford shirt with tails untucked, the sandals, with his stubbly growth of sandy beard, his longish sun-streaked hair, and his eternal Pall Mall between two fingers.

“Take a picture, it’ll last longer,” he said.

“Oh, sorry -- it’s just -- it’s hard to get used to. You turning up.”

“I understand. What you been doing?”

It had only been a half hour or so since I had left him at the Ugly Mug, but a lot had happened; I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into it, though.

“So you really don’t know?” I asked.

“No, I told you before, even I am not quite omniscient. Why? Did you have some new adventure?”

On second thought I was sure I didn’t want to go into it.

“No, not really,” I said.

“Which means, ‘Yes, really’,” he said. “But, look, if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s all right. What happened to that weird doll by the way?”

“Oh. Well, if you must know, she turned into a living girl.”


“She had made a deal with this Jack Scratch guy --”

“Jack Scratch?”


“There’s a guy that’ll never quit.”

“Oh, you know him,” I said.

“Oh, sure. I knew him even before he went over to the other side. He’s in town here now, y’know.”

“I know, I met him tonight.”

“You did? And did he try to get you to sign one of his contracts?”


“I hope you didn’t.”

“No,” I said.

“Unlike this doll, or girl, what was her name?”


“So what was her deal?”

“Well, she wanted eternal youth -- this was back in 1910 --”


“Right, she signed a contract for eternal youth, and he gave it to her, but the twist was she had to spend eternity as a doll.”

“Typical. So how did she turn into a real girl?”

“I’m not sure.”

“It must have been you, Arnold. Your special powers. I mean, you know you have them, right?”

“I suppose so. Unless I’m just insane.”

“Which is always a possibility of course,” he said. “Where are you headed?”

“Home,” I said.

“Come on, I’ll walk you. The light’s green.”

We went down the steps.

“Oh, you never did light one up,” he said, gesturing toward the pack of Pall Malls I still held in my left hand.

“Oh. Here, do you want them? They’re your brand. I really am supposed to be trying to quit.”

“Sure, I’ll take them,” he said.

I handed him the pack, and the matches too.

“Thanks, Arnold. Glad to be of help.”

I absent-mindedly patted my pockets, as if to make sure I had no other cigarettes on hand, and it was then that I realized that I still had that fountain pen that Mr. Arbuthnot had given me, for services rendered. It and its case were still in my left pocket, the little bag that held the jar of ink was in my right pocket. It occurred to me that I might do well to divest myself of these things at the first opportunity.

“So where’s the girl?” asked Josh. “Your friend Clarissa.”

We were walking by the movie theatre. A crowd of people were leaving it, and its showing of A Gathering of Eagles, with Rock Hudson.

“Well, she seemed to be having trouble adjusting, so --”

“Why don’t you get a haircut and a shave, buddy,” said some big guy who apparently had come out of the theatre with what I suppose must have been his wife.

“What?” said Josh.

“I said why don’t you get a shave and a haircut?”

“Why don’t you mind your own business, pal?”

“What are you, a beatnik?”

“I’m your personal lord and savior, although believe me, right now I almost wish I weren’t.”


“You heard me.”

“You trying to get wise?”

“I don’t have to try. Everything I say is automatically wise.”

“Punch him, Henry,” said the man’s wife, she must have been that. “He’s being blasphemous.”

“I assure you, madam, that I am constitutionally incapable of blasphemy,” said Josh.

“Why don’t we just step over to the beach and I’ll teach you a lesson,” said the man.

“No, thanks,” said Josh. “I’ll take a pass.”


“Coward? Have you ever been scourged, my friend?”


“Whipped. Brutally. Here, look.”

Josh put his cigarette in his mouth and quickly unbuttoned the top three or four of the buttons he had buttoned on his shirt, and, shrugging it off of his shoulders, he turned his back to the man.

Josh’s back was horribly scarred.

“Oh my God,” said the woman, her hand over her mouth.

“Yes?” said Josh, turning to face the two again.

He pulled the shirt up to his shoulders and began to rebutton it.

“Hey, I’m sorry, buddy,” said the man.

Some people had stopped to look at Josh, but now they moved on, if reluctantly.

“You’re a -- veteran?” said the man.

“Well, let’s say I didn’t get those scars playing a rough game of badminton,” said Josh.

He took the cigarette out of his mouth and dropped it to the pavement.

For the first time I noticed the stigmata scars on his hands.

“Look, I’m sorry, pal,” said the man.

“Apology accepted,” said Josh.

He stubbed out the butt with the sole of his sandal.

“I’ve often wondered,” said the big man, “if I were ever captured. Would I break.”

“Everybody breaks, my friend. It’s just a question of time.”

“Did you?”

“Oh yes. By the end I was pleading with my father in heaven. Why me?”

“We should go, Henry,” said the woman.

“Okay,” said the man. “See ya, buddy. Sorry.”

He nodded to me also, took his wife’s arm, and went walking away along the sidewalk.

“This is awkward,” said Josh, “they’re heading in the same direction we are. Let’s give them a little time to get away.”

“Sure,” I said. We walked over and looked at the movie posters.

The Great Escape,” said Josh. “This looks good. So, getting back to your girlfriend -- Clarissa?”

“Yes,” I said. “Well, to cut a long story short, I took her back to her own time.”

“You took her back to 1910.”

“Yeah, 1910.”

Josh had been studying the poster, but now he turned his head to look at me.

“You’re getting good, Arnold. Very good. Even I can’t travel back and forth in time.”


He turned back to the poster.

“No. I told you, my powers are vastly over-estimated. Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, James Garner, this one looks really good.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“All men, too, that’s good. Is it just me, or is it boring when they have these love stories in the middle of war movies?”

“It is, kind of,” I said. “But I think they want to give women something to watch.”

“I guess you’re right. Men like the war stories, women like the love stories. Well, I suppose it’s safe for us to move along now.” We started along the sidewalk. “How about a night-cap?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“Why not?”

“Well --”


“A couple of hours ago you told me not to drink too much tonight.”

“You seem okay, though. One drink.”

“I really just want to hit the hay.”

“It’s early.”

“It’s past midnight.”

“It’s Saturday night. One beer.”

“I’m tired, Josh.”

“You can call me Jesus, if you want. Josh was for your friends’ benefit.”

“I think I prefer Josh,” I said.


We walked by the miniature golf course. People were still playing under the bright floodlights.

“Look,” said Josh, “these people are still out enjoying themselves.”

I didn’t say anything. We walked along. Josh hummed what I think might have been a Gregorian chant.

Finally we approached Perry Street. Only a few more blocks to my aunts’ house. We came abreast of Sid’s Tavern. Its door was open. Inside revelers drank and laughed, and a jukebox played “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”.

“Ah, yes,” said Josh. “The sight and sound of people having fun. But it’s okay, you can, you know, go home and lie in your bed, wide awake, staring at the ceiling.”

He stopped. I stopped. He had lit another cigarette, and he stood there holding it.

“All right,” I said. “One beer.”

He broke into a smile.

“Just one, on my sacred word, Arnold.”

We went on in.

(Continued here, and, Josh willing, into the distant reaches of that unknown universe we call the future. Please go to the right hand side of this page to find a listing of links to all other extant chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. “That saintly madman, that mad saint.” -- Harold Bloom.)

The Small Faces: collibosher --

Thursday, May 28, 2009

My dad and my grandmom

For those who have commented so nicely about my father’s letters from WWII, here’s a picture of him with his mother, before he went overseas. Her name was Rose, née Reilly. My dad would have been about twenty-two here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 136: the world

Our previous episode found Dick and Daphne re-united by chance, after almost two decades, with the no-longer young Harvey (with his eighteen-year-old daughter, Heather) in Paris, in the summer of 1988...

(Click here to start at the beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning masterpiece from the battered Smith Corona portable of Larry Winchester, “The last of the giants.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Charlie Rose Show.)

We had been sitting outside the café for almost an hour after lunch, and Daphne and Heather were really hitting it off, just chatting away. I had fallen into a contented fade-out, sipping my beer and smoking a cigar, watching the people go by in the sunlight.

Then Dick leaned over toward me and said in a low voice:

“She looks just like Attie.”

“Except for the braces on her teeth,” I said.

“You’re a lucky guy.”

“Don’t I know it.”

“Excuse me for asking, Harve, but -- you’ve never gotten married?”

“I’m seeing a woman back in L.A. It looks like we’re headed in that direction.”

“Oh, that’s nice.”

Right about then a very handsome and tall young guy wearing a backpack over one shoulder came strolling up to the table. He looked like an Italian soccer star.

“Rafael!” yelled Daphne.

He bent down and he and Daphne kissed each other French-style on both cheeks. Then he punched Dick on the shoulder American-style and Dick feinted with a left and punched Rafael with a right to his shoulder.

“Hey, Dad.”

“Hey, Rafe.”

“Rafael,” said Daphne, “I want you to meet one of our oldest friends and his simply stunning daughter: Harvey and Heather.”

I shook Rafael’s hand, which was about twice as big as mine. Rafael’s eyes were having trouble not darting over to Heather.

Rafael and Heather then said hi to each other, and shook hands. They were both blushing. Rafael looked around, saw an empty chair at another table and pulled it over. Daphne and Heather wordlessly made room between each other, and Rafael sat down between them. He started to take off his backpack and Heather helped him with it.

“This is too perfect,” said Daphne.

Rafael and Heather started to chat together, about school, where they were going to college that fall...

Daphne put her hand on my thigh. This felt good.

Yeah, it was all too weird, but what else was new? I half expected Old Mr. MacNamara to come strolling up.

Speaking of:

“Hey, how’s your father, Daphne?” I asked.

I was very jet-lagged, and on my fourth glass of red wine. I put my hand on her hand on my thigh.

“Oh, Papa died, I’m afraid. Again.”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

She drew her hand away. Too bad, I’d been enjoying that.

She put the ends of her fingers on her wineglass. White wine, shining in the sunlight.

“He was on some sort of expedition, in the Gobi Desert, along with Buddy Kelly and that Brad person. Remember Brad?”

“Brad Dexter? Sure I remember him.”

“Brad,” she said, and she paused a moment. “Well, anyway, apparently, they all went out in their jeep together, the three musketeers, out into the Gobi, and then they got lost and ran out of gas and, well, their jeep was found out there in the wastelands, but -- no Papa, no Buddy, no Brad. Nothing. Neither hair nor hide.”

She took up her glass of wine and took a sip, swirled the wine in the glass, then put the glass down again.

“It was -- a very Papa way to go,” she said.


After a while Heather and I went back to the hotel and took naps, and later we all hooked up again and had dinner at some Moroccan joint in the Quarter. Then we all walked around showing Heather the sights.

Finally we wound up in this very smoky basement jazz club. A band led by an American trumpet player was playing, and Daphne and the kids were all leaning together on the other side of the table; I couldn’t really follow their conversation over the music.

Dick and I had been doing some more catching up through the evening. He’d never heard the whole story about Attie finally dying back in 1980, the letter I got from my mother, and me dragging my ass back to Disdain and taking custody of a daughter I hadn’t known I had.

“You never knew,” said Dick.

“I never knew. I’d never gone back home again. I wrote Attie a few times after I left, but all she ever sent me were like two-sentence post cards, and then after a while even those stopped. My mom used to write fairly regularly, but she never mentioned a baby.”

Dick and I were leaning close to each other. I had been gazing through the smoke at the band. I turned my head to look at him. He was looking intently at me.

“I realize now I was a complete asshole,” I said. “Never even going back for a visit to my mom. But I just couldn’t do it.”

“How is your mother?” asked Dick, moving on.

“Fine. She moved out to L.A. to live with us, actually.”


“Yeah. It’s good, you know, to have a woman around for a kid.”

“Of course.”

“I mean, what did I know about taking care of a kid?”

“Right. And how does your mom like L.A.?”

“Fuckin’ loves it. She wanted to work, so I got her a job with a craft services company at MGM. Fuckin’ loves her job. Everybody on the lot loves her, too.”

“Well, that’s really nice, Harve.”

“Yeah. And it kinda makes up for all the years when I wouldn’t visit her. I guess.”

“I’d say so.”

“Y’know, I thought Attie was barren,” I said.

“You did? Why?”

“Because that’s what she told me. She told me she was barren, from radiation exposure.”

“Oh,” said Dick. “So -- she was mistaken --”

“Either that, or -- or she, uh -- she --”


“She wanted to have a kid, but she didn’t necessarily want me to know she had a kid. ‘Cause she knew I wanted to travel around, see the world, experience life. All that shit.”

“Oh. I see.”

“She didn’t want to tie me down.”


“Yeah,” I said. “Well, you know.”

“Sure,” said Dick.

We both shut up for a bit then, and listened to the music.

(Continued here. Please see the right hand side of this page to find what may well be a listing of links to all other published chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, as seen on The Philco Television Playhouse starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, and Skip Homeier.)

Monday, May 25, 2009

My father's letters home

 My father and his mother

I've got this extremely fragile and yellowed page from the Philadelphia Bulletin, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 1945. I keep it folded up in the back of a photo album. The page has a round-up of the latest military casualties: killed, wounded, missing, taken prisoner. My father is listed in there:
Sergeant Edward J. Leo, 22, son of Mrs. Rose Leo, 3651 N. 15th St., was wounded December 13 in Germany. An infantryman, he attended Roman Catholic High School and Simon Gratz High School. He was a truck driver, and boxed as an amateur as well as a professional.

About ten years ago my mother gave me a little greeting-card box without a lid, in a Ziploc bag. In the box are about thirty of my dad's letters home from the army in World War II. The earlier ones are written on small cheap stationery; most of the later ones are V-mail, single-sheet photocopies, five inches by four-and-a-half. (From Wikipedia: "V-mail correspondence worked by photographing large amounts of censored mail reduced to thumb-nail size onto reels of microfilm, which weighed much less than the original would have. The film reels were shipped to the US, sent to prescribed destinations for developing at a receiving station near the recipient, and printed out on lightweight photo paper. These facsimiles of the letter-sheets were reproduced about one-quarter the original size and the miniature mail was delivered to the addressee.") The letters are all signed "Bud", which was his family nickname.

Here's a bit from one dated 11/10/44, to my dad's Aunt Kate. He's stationed in England, waiting to get sent across the Channel:

I was glad to hear Franklin got in again, so were the rest of the Joes. You can see by the papers that things are going good with the war. The Nazis ought to be cracking up pretty soon...

Here's another one written on the cheap stationery, dated 11/13/44. “Jack" is my dad's younger brother):

Dear Mother, Dad & Jack:  
This is me again and I'm running out of things to say. The place is pretty much of routine.
I was on pass the other night with O'Melia and Will Hazlett. Will is from Philly, he lives out around 26th & Allegheny Sts. 
We were in an English Pub (taproom) spending a nice quiet evening. Their beer is nothing like ours, its kind of warm and tastes flat. They've got a dart board in every pub, just like in Philly. Their boards are the same size but the no.2 ring is about two inches outside of the cork and their game is a little bit different. They don't have any dart boards in Boston so O'Melia didn't know how to play. Me & Will teamed up and played some English men and beat them every time. They've got everything but a juke box in the pubs...

This is from 11/28/44. (My dad's father had served in the army in France in WWI.):

I visited Le Havre what a beating that place took. I traveled all through France and saw some interesting things. I probly passed through a lot of towns that are familiar to Dad. I'm now in Belgium and have it pretty nice. Tonight I'm living in a private home its a break as its teaming rain and cold outside... 

I was in the field in France but I still had a turkey dinner.
Well I have to get up early tomorrow. We're having Mass. Don't worry about me as I went to confession and communion on Thanksgiving...

Here is the entirety of a later letter, a V-mail. I can't quite make out the date :

Dear Mother Dad & Jack: 
How are you? I am O.K. I went on a tour of the neighborhood with a guy last night, we went to the main part of town and its pretty nice. I even bought an ice cream sunday, the ice cream was good but nothing like ours. I bought four bars of candy for 100 franks ($2.28) they were about as big as a nestle “Babe Ruth". Cakes candy and cigarettes are about the only expensive things though. Apples are beautiful and a good deal of apple pies float around and you know how I like apple pies. There is nothing else new to say. I can use some air mail envelopes and stamps also soap. Well thats about all I have to say, I'm going to bed early to night and rest up. Write soon and tell every one I was asking for them. 
P.S. Happy 25th Wedding Anniversary.

And that's about all you had room for with a V-mail letter.

This V-mail to his Aunt Kate is dated 12/1/44. He's quartered with a Belgian family:
...Another day is over and I'm in my house again. I'm getting to be one of the family. The family consists of husband and wife two grownup boys and the wife's brother. When that mob congregates with me and my two buddies (we've got a room on the 2nd floor with a double and a single bed) in the kitchen its a riot. Its an old fashion 3 story house and we sit in the kitchen and drink beer and talk. They speak flemish up here but we understand each other. The lady does our laundry for us also. They're all Catholics over here too and the church is about a mile from where I stay. I go to mass every morning I'm not too busy...
I'm spending a real quiet night at home.I'm sitting here in the kitchen and the two boys Jose and Victor are playing their trombone and trumpet for me. They're pretty good and know some American songs...

There is a big gap in the letters here. My father was wounded by a mortar shell, and his left leg was amputated. Besides getting the Purple Heart that every wounded soldier got, he was also awarded a Bronze Star, but I don't know what for.

The next V-mail I have is dated 1/15/45; It's to his Aunt Edna and it's from a hospital in England:
Dear Edna: 

I just received a letter from you dated the 7th. I was glad to hear from you. Yesterday I was snowed under with the mail. 
I haven't received any of the packages or old mail from the Company. Where they're at they're probly not receiving mail. If I don't have any reply by the time I'm ready to leave here I've written O'Melia and will give him the authority to get all my packages. If he's still alive they'll do him more good than me back in the States. We had that agreement anyhow, whoever got hit first got the others packages. 
There's not much going on here, me and the guy next to me were out in the wheel chairs all afternoon again today. We took two of the walking wounded with us today to do the pushing, yesterday we went by ourselves but it was too rough going up hill. 
There is a guy bothering me, I write all his letters for him. He's got a banged up arm, tonight he got his first letters in a long time, so I guess I'll be kept pretty busy. Say hello to everyone for me and keep writing. 

This is to his mother, 2/1/45. He's still in a hospital in England.
They were talking about my outfit in a news broadcast today. They're really going to town now. I wish I was with them...
Here's the last letter I have, a V-mail dated 2/23/45:
Dear Mother: 

I'm still here in the other hosp. and times passing pleasantly. 
Bill O'Melia came to see me Thursday and stayed till Friday. He was surprised to see me in as good shape as ever. We had a good time talking over old times. His feet are pretty good now. I hope they don't send him up to the front again when warm weather comes. At the present he's stationed at a hospital about a hundred miles from me. 
I ought to be leaving here soon, I don't know when, I don't think they know theirself. I don't mind waiting though. I kind of hate to go leaving all my brothers here. 
Well I don't have much more to say, tell Dad & Jack, hello! 

My father never bragged about his army service, he never complained about losing his leg. A few years after the war he married my mom, and they raised a family. He worked as a tool grinder, and died in a car accident in 1977.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 141: the Admiral

Let us rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel on this sultry August night in 1963, strolling along the boardwalk of old Cape May, NJ, arm-in-arm with that ever-popular living doll Clarissa…

(Go here for our previous installment, or here for the first chapter of this Gold View Award-winning memoir.)

We went past the last of the boardwalk shops and amusements and onto that long stretch of the promenade on which people must fall back on the clean ocean air and the sight and sounds of the ocean and the beauty of the enormous twinkling sky, or their own devices, to ward off boredom and dread.

“How is your leg?” asked Clarissa.

I had forgotten that I was limping, just as I had forgotten that my leg hurt, but now that she mentioned it of course I became aware of both limp and pain.

“It’s okay,” I said.

“I really seem to have found myself in a pickle,” she said, getting back to herself. “What I’ll need to do is find some rich man and marry him. Something I should have done a long time ago. Do you have any rich friends, Arnold?”

“No, I’m afraid not,” I said.

Not that I would have introduced her even if I had a rich friend.

“Oh, wait,” she said, “what about this motion picture that you and your friend are going to make?”


“Can’t I be an actress in it? Your what’s her name, Helen of Troy?”


“Her, she’s going to be in it. There must be some other female parts.”

“Well, I suppose so, but --”

“I have experience you know. I played Lady Macbeth in a production at Bryn Mawr.”

What had I got myself into? I needed to think, and to think fast.

“Clarissa,” I said.

“I so love it when you say my name like that. Say it again.”


“Love it. Do go on.”
"Clarissa --"

“If I’m not mistaken it was some bargain you made with Jack Scratch that turned you into a doll?”

“Yes. Drat my vanity. You see I wanted never to grow old. What Jack didn’t tell me, and what I didn’t bother to read in the fine print of his contract, was that I would spend my eternal youth as a damned doll. Pardon my language.”

“And this was when? What year?”

“Nineteen hundred and ten.”

“Okay. Well, how would you like to go back to 1910?”

“Oh, that would be marvelous. I’m sure my family is wondering where I am. Do you think you could take me back?”

“I can try.”

“You are resourceful, Arnold.”

“We’ll see. Let’s stop for a moment.”

“My, this is exciting,” she said.

“Let’s go over and look at the ocean,” I said.

We went over to the beachward rail, and we looked out at the grey empty beach, at the surf and the dark sea.

“Now what happens?” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said, “but I think we should stare out at the ocean.”

“The ancient, timeless, eternal ocean?”


So we stared, for a minute or so. I tried to concentrate, to see the wholeness of time instead of the continuous flickerings of present moments in which we ordinarily live.

And then I saw a German U-Boat emerge from the waves only a few hundred yards from the shore, the gleaming water streaming from its conning tower in the starlight as the dark boat slid though the swells and down toward the cape and the bay.

I saw steamships from the turn of the century and then came the wooden ships, the three-masted frigates and schooners and men-of-war, I saw the canoes of the Indians and even the longships of the Norsemen.

And then there was only the dark and huge unquiet ocean.

“This is rather dull,” said Clarissa.

“Bear with me,” I said. “Tell me, when you made this deal with Jack Scratch, were you staying here in Cape May?”

“Yes, my family and I were stopping at that dreadful Admiral Hotel down the road. Do you know it?”


I had on many occasions walked by this enormous pile of brick and concrete, which had recently been bought by the Reverend McIntyre and re-named The Christian Admiral.

“All right,” I said. “I’m going to give this a try.”

“To take me back?”


“How thrilling! What do I do?”

“Keep holding my arm.”

“Ooh, your strong manly arm. Do you exercise with dumbbells, Arnold?”

“No, but I swim a lot. Now try to concentrate, Clarissa.”

“Sorry. I will.”

“Okay, let’s start walking, nice and easy.”

“Anything you say.”

We resumed out stroll.

“Look ahead,” I said. “Do you see the Admiral down there?”

“How can I not? It’s hideous, isn’t it?”

It was about four blocks away up the curve of the beach, looming huge and monstrous, set apart from the mostly beautiful downtown area of Cape May, and just as well.

“All right,” I said. “Let’s just keep walking.”

A young couple were coming down the boardwalk. The boy wore a white t-shirt with rolled up sleeves, and blue jeans. His heavily greased hair was swept back in a ducktail. His girlfriend wore a full dress with white socks and Mary Jane shoes.

The young couple passed us, and then another slightly older couple approached. The man wore an army summer uniform of the sort I had been issued during the war. The girl had her long hair scooped up above her forehead in the fashion of those days.

“Those people look somehow odd,” whispered Clarissa.

“I know,” I said, as we passed the couple. “It’s happening quicker than I had hoped. I think we’re in the mid-1940s.”

“Oh, how wonderful!”

“I’ll need your help, Clarissa. When you see people who seem dressed like in 1910, tell me.”

“Dressed as in 1910,” she corrected me.

“As,” I said.

A 1930’s couple came up next, the man with the thin moustache and shiny hair of Clark Gable, the woman with the platinum helmet of Jean Harlow.

And so we walked back through time, through the 1920s and into the teens. By the time we reached Pittsburgh Avenue and the block dominated by the Admiral Hotel the streetlights had changed from electric to flickering gas.

“I think we’re back in my own time now,” Clarissa said. “Or close enough.”

There was no one nearby on the boardwalk, but an open Oldsmobile Limited touring car rolled past us along Beach Drive. The men in the car wore straw boaters; great multi-colored hats like tropical shrubs sat on the heads of the women.

Clarissa let go of my arm, and turned to face me.

I realized that she was wearing one of those large hats, festooned with blossoms made of satin and silk. Her dress came down to her patent leather boots, and looking down I saw that I was wearing a white suit from the epoch, complete with spats. It occurred to me that people must have been very uncomfortable in summer in these clothes. I know I was sweating.

“Will you come with me?” she asked.

“I’d better not,” I said. “It’s late, and --”


“I’m afraid of getting stuck here in 1910,” I said.

“I can understand that.” She turned and looked across the street at the hotel. “I suppose I can manage it from here.”

She paused.

“Well, thank you, Arnold. Thank you ever so much.”

“You’re welcome, Clarissa.”

“I suppose I’ll have to go back to being mortal now,” she said.

“Maybe there are worse fates,” I said.

“Don’t I know it.”

Behind us the surf crashed gently, sounding the same as it always does.

“Well, ta,” she said.

“Goodbye,” I said.

“Perhaps we’ll meet again.”

“That’s possible, I guess.”

“I’ll be so much older than you.”


“More’s the pity. I could get along with a man like you.”

She went up on her toes and gave me a kiss on the cheek.

“All right,” she said, “no sad goodbyes! Wish me luck!”

“Good luck, Clarissa.”

There were some steps there, and she flounced down them to the street. Before crossing though she looked back.

“Come visit me sometime, Mr. Schnabel!”

I shrugged.

“Maybe,” I said.


She started across the road. A carriage with two horses was coming right toward her, but the driver reined in and put on his brakes. On the opposite sidewalk Clarissa headed purposefully toward the hotel entrance.

I watched her float up the two flights of steps, across the portico, and through the front doors.

I waited for a minute, just to make sure she was well in and not being chased or thrown out.

Then I turned, and I headed back down the boardwalk.

The years and the decades drifted past me, and by the time I reached Convention Hall I was back in what looked to be 1963.

I looked down at myself and I was once again wearing my polo shirt, my bermudas, my Keds with no socks.

I heard the rock ‘n’ roll of Rockin’ Harry Hirsch and his men booming from within the hall. I stopped by the steps that led down to the drive and to the movie theatre across the way. I took out my packet of Pall Malls, and the book of matches.

The whole time I had been with Clarissa I had thought I wanted to be free of her. But now I missed her.

(Continued here, and don't worry, many hundreds of Arnold’s neatly-filled marble notebooks still remain to be transcribed. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. “With all due respect to Newman and to Augustine, perhaps the greatest of Catholic memoirs.” Msgr. Francis X. “Franny” Slattery, SJ, L’Osservatore Romano.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 135: reunion

We now raise the curtain on the final act of Larry Winchester’s beloved epic, presented here for the first time in all its uncut glory...

(Click here for our previous chapter, or here for the beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning masterpiece. “This book never leaves my bathroom.” -- Harold Bloom.)

Paris, August, 1988

After checking out our rooms we were heading out the front door when who should we practically bump into on the sidewalk but, hardly the worse for wear, Dick and Daphne Ridpath.

They walked right past us and they looked older of course and they were wearing sunglasses, but I knew it was them all right. Neither of them quite caught that it was me, and after all I was wearing my shades too, but, fuck, let’s face it, I’m just not all that striking-looking. But they did both glance back. And I said, “Dick? Daphne?” And they stopped. I took off my sunglasses. And Daphne goes, “Good God. Soldier boy.”

And then she comes over and puts her hands on my arms and kisses me on the mouth.

“Harvey darling.”

She looks at Heather.

“And please don’t tell me this is your girlfriend.”

“This is my daughter, believe it or not.”

And I did the introductions.

I was amazed but come to think of it not surprised at how well they looked. Dick’s hair had gone grey but as opposed to me the fucker still had most of his hair, and he was even slimmer than I remembered him being back in ’69. Daphne had some lines at the corners of her eyes but she still had that body, a little bit more filled out but still firm looking. The pixie haircut was gone and her hair was long and lustrous, a little reddish now, and piled up on top of her head with little tendrils curling down the sides of her face. Her lipstick was a deep brownish red. And both she and Dick had very white teeth that even looked real.

Back in the old days they looked just like a pair of movie stars, and fuck them now if they still didn’t. Just older.

We all retired to an outside table at a café nearby on the rue Mouffetard called Le Bateau Ivre. This had been one of my hangouts when I spent six or seven months in Paris back in ’71, or was it ’72, whatever, it was the year Jim Morrison died, whenever the fuck that was.

Daphne told us how beautiful Heather was.

“You look just like your mother, darling.”

Heather for her part was obviously enthralled with these two, and I could tell I’d risen a notch or two in her estimation.

I hadn’t seen the Ridpaths since that September back in 1969. We had said we’d stay in touch, but that hadn’t worked out too well. I moved around a lot in the seventies, and Dick and Daphne never seemed to stay in one place longer than a month, so after a few years the correspondence dwindled away to not-quite yearly Christmas cards; and then, for the past six or seven years, nothing.

Daphne asked me what we were doing in Paris, and I told her we were on vacation.

“What about you guys?” I asked.

“We live here now,” said Daphne. “We’ve finally taken a form of root someplace. You see we wanted Rafael to have some stability and a decent secondary education.”

Rafael -- pronounced the Spanish way -- was Dick’s son by Hope, Daphne’s adopted son.

“Um, I should know this,” I said, “but, uh, did you guys ever have any other --”

“I can’t,” said Daphne. “I had a couple of miscarriages, and one almost killed me, and I had to have an awful operation where they removed half of my insides, and -- well --”

“Oh my God --”

“Oh, it’s all right now, supposedly. But it was very boring there for a while, and the upshot was I couldn’t have kids.”

“Shit, I’m sorry --”

“On the positive side it all scared me enough to get healthy. I gave up smoking, and, you’re not going to believe this, I gave up red meat.”

“Get out.”

“No, seriously. Also I practice chi kung on a daily basis, this tedious Chinese discipline that I used to make fun of Dick about. I’m absurdly healthy now. Except I do drink wine. There are limits.”

So we had lunch, and we caught up a bit. I told them a little about my show-biz career, but I didn’t want to bore Heather, so I just kept to the broad outlines, and then turned the conversation back to Dick and Daphne. They had an apartment right up the street on Claude Bernard. And amazingly, they both had day jobs now, taking American and Canadian tourists on bus tours through Paris and its environs…

But something was happening, and it had only happened to me once or twice before, this thing where you’re with someone you haven’t seen in a very long time and yet it feels like you’ve just seen them last week. Almost nineteen years and a lot of shit and here we all were again, and it felt right. A little weird, true. But weird felt normal.

(Continued here. Please feel free to refer to the right hand side of this page for what we hope might be a listing of all other extant chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, all of them free, gratis, and for nothing; donations will however be accepted in aid of the Larry Winchester Film Society’s annual Larry Winchester Film Festival at the Fern Rock Theatre, featuring a 48-hour marathon of Larry’s masterworks, including the first showing in over fifty years of Too Late The Wiseguy {1953, Dane Clark and Martha Vickers} in a brand new 35mm print restored from the original negative, in Dolby mono sound.)

The Smiths: hand in glove --

Friday, May 15, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 140: the promise

Previously in this Gold View Award™-winning memoir* our hero Arnold Schnabel was seen being hustled out of Cape May’s Convention Hall and back onto the boardwalk by that imperious animated doll Clarissa, on this seemingly endless night in August of 1963...

*”As vast, as all-encompassing, as life itself; and would that our own lives could be half as entertaining.” -- Harold Bloom, in Parade Magazine.

“I don’t mind if you light a cigarette, you know,” she said.

“Oh, that’s okay,” I said. “I’m supposed to be quitting anyway.”

“What on earth for? It’s manly to smoke. Oh, let’s turn down here.”

She pulled me down to the walkway at the side of the hall. The last time I had been on this pier was not two hours earlier this evening, with Dick and Mr. Arbuthnot, the three of us recoiling in horror as that enormous black cat poked his giant paw down out of the night-time sky. But halfway down the pier Clarissa stopped me by a wire-mesh trash can. She looked all around her and then reached inside the top of her dress and brought out a man’s wallet.

“Oh, no,” I said.

She took some bank-notes out of the wallet, then dropped the wallet into the trash can.

“Clarissa --” I said.


She was counting the bills.

“Where did you get that wallet?” I said, stupidly.

“I took it from this oaf who was dancing with me.”

“But you told me you would stop stealing.”

“No I didn’t.”

She opened her little white leather purse and stuffed the money into it with the rest of her ill-gotten loot.

“Well, you have to stop it,” I said. I picked the wallet out of the trash and looked through it. “Look, this poor guy has his driver’s license in here, a Diner’s Club card, look, his library card --”

“What is your point, Arnold?”

“My point is that you have not only stolen from this man, but you’ve caused him a great inconvenience.”

“He deserved it. You should have heard the way he spoke to me. He called me ‘baby’. And he tried to rub his body against mine.”

“I’m going to take this wallet back into the hall.”

“And do what with it?”

“I’ll -- I’ll leave it with the cashier, or -- uh --”

“Oh, give it to me.”

“All right.” I handed it to her. “And I want you to put that money back into it,” I said.

She walked over to the railing opposite, and then with a side-hand gesture she tossed the wallet over the top rail and down into the dark crashing surf.

She turned to face me across the boards. Her dark curly hair swirled around her pale face in the ocean breeze.

“You’re such a bore,” she said.

I paused for about two or three seconds I suppose. Then I turned and headed back towards the boardwalk.

I had almost gotten to the front corner of the hall when I heard her hurrying footsteps behind me.

“Arnold!” she called.

I kept going, headed toward the steps that led down from the promenade.

“Arnold, please wait!”

At the top of the steps I stopped, I don’t know why, but I didn’t turn.

I felt her hand on my arm. Keeping her hand on my arm she came around in front of me. There were tears in her dark eyes.

“Please don’t leave me, Arnold. I promise I won’t steal any more. Or rob. Please don’t leave me.”

A tear slid down one of those porcelain cheeks. I took out my handkerchief, and put it in her hand, the one that wasn’t gripping my forearm, but she didn’t wipe her face.

“I’ll be all alone if you leave me, Arnold.”

“All right,” I said. “I won’t leave you.”

“Do you promise?”

A man and a woman came up the steps. The man looked at us then quickly looked away. The woman however continued to look from me to Clarissa as she and the man came up the steps and then past us. A lover’s quarrel, they thought. If they only knew.

“Promise me, Arnold,” said Clarissa.

She squeezed my arm.

“I promise,” I said. I peeled her small but strong fingers from my arm. “Look, you should wipe your face, Clarissa.”

She dabbed her eyes and her cheek, then handed me back the handkerchief. I put it back into my pocket.

“I was only trying to amass a grubstake,” she said.

“But that’s not the way to do it.”

“I know. I’ve been very naughty.” She straightened the collar of my polo shirt, although I have no idea if the collar needed straightening. “But what shall I do?” she asked. “Will you give me money?”

“Clarissa, I’m living on a half-pay disability allotment from the railroad.”

“But aren’t you helping that Larry man to write his motion picture?”

I had conveniently forgotten all about that.

“Well, yes,” I said.

“He’s probably paying you loads of money for that.”

She had backed me into a corner.

“All right,” I said, “I’ll help you out, just till you get settled. But you’ll have to get a job.”

“A job?”


“You mean like a steno, or a waitress?”


“That sounds frightfully boring.”

I couldn’t deny what she said.

“No,” she said. “No, that won’t do. We’ll have to think of something else. Come, walk with me some more, Arnold.”

She put her arm in mine.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s stroll along the boardwalk some more. It’s such a lovely night.”

I really did want just to go home at this point. But, if I did, what would I do with Clarissa? I certainly couldn’t bring her to my aunts’ house. No, no, I couldn’t do that. Could I?

“All right,” I said, and once again we started strolling along the promenade, arm in arm, just as if we were a normal couple.

(Continued here, and on and on until hell freezes over. Please look to the right hand side of this page to find links to innumerable other chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, third-place winner of the Catholic Standard & Times’s “Saint Augustine Award” for Confessional Literature.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Spring is here. Why doesn't his heart go dancing?

Because of the boring demands of quotidian life, it's going to take a couple of more days before we will be able to publish the feverishly-awaited next installment of Arnold Schnabel's Gold View award-winning memoir, Railroad Train to Heaven, and so -- we hope not as a mere sop to the masses -- we offer this re-run of one of Arnold's more beloved poems.

This sonnet first saw light in the May 18, 1963 number of the “Olney Times”. By this point one wonders if the editors of that august and generally upbeat paper were even bothering to read Arnold’s increasingly disturbing poems before running them. But we can only be thankful that print them they did. (Poem republished by permission of the good people of the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

“The Day of the Worm”
When I was a lad, so many years before my fall,
I feared strange moist days like today,
Days of spring, after rain, a sky of steel grey,
When it seemed that no one was outside at all,
Or if they were, they were always several blocks away;
And on such days whilst walking aimlessly around,
I would notice a plethora of worms arising from the ground
And wriggling across the wet concrete pathway,
Millions of them, rising up, implacable and blind;
What did they want, and why were they here?
I wanted only to be home, and to leave behind
Their vileness, their inexorable legions, and my fear.
And, now, from the damp loam of my soul what new creatures
Arise, silent, smiling, and with my own features?

(Check the right hand side of this page for a listing of other classic poems by Arnold Schnabel.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 134: whacked

Let us rejoin our heroes, anti-heroes, and assorted featured players on a day in September, 1969, at the hospitable Johnstone Ranch (“Reasonable Rates For Folks Who Hanker For a Taste of the Real Old West”), not very far from a town called Disdain...

(Go here for our previous chapter, or here for the first chapter of this Gold View Award©-winning yarn from Mr. Larry Winchester. “ Cormac McCarthy but without the big words.” -- Harold Bloom.)

That morning a great dust storm blew up through the area but then it passed and the day opened up bright and clear and warm and everything seemed like you could reach out and touch it.

Everyone had a good long sleep and after people finally started waking up that bright afternoon they all sat around the parlor drinking tea and eating little burritos made with the leftover barbecue meat.

Jake was nice enough to give Brad one of his old western suits to replace his bloodstained one, and Dick gave Mr. MacNamara a nice grey serge number from Hawkes of Savile Row that was a tad too small but still better than the bullet-ridden and gory jacket and trousers he had been wearing.

Buddy wound up in some old ranching clothes of Ed Harris the foreman’s.

Harvey drove Cleb and Attie home in the green Corvair, and he stayed for dinner out at the Parsons spread.

Buddy spent part of the afternoon working on Paco’s station wagon and sure enough he got it running again. Paco bade a fond farewell to one and all and drove back to the reservation.

Jake sent Tip Bullock out to Enid’s truck with four spare tires. The Doc and Enid drove out with him, and after they had changed the tires Enid and the Doc drove back on in to Disdain together.

Mr. MacNamara and Brad and Buddy spent some little time palavering together out on the porch and when they came in Mr. MacNamara took Big Jake aside and they had a little talk. Then Mr. MacNamara sat down next to Dick and Daphne and they talked quietly for a while. And then Mr. MacNamara and Brad and Buddy said so long to everyone and drove off in a nondescript old Packard that Jake had lying around. Jake said later that he had offered them the car free gratis and for nothing, but that old Mac had insisted on paying cash for it, in the form of five crisp new hundred-dollar bills.

Dick and Daphne had a talk with Jake over cocktails, and Jake said he thought it’d be a damn swell idea for Hope to take a trip to Europe with them. That Albuquerque head-shrinker had advised that she hold off college at least till next January. Well, Jake was no head-shrinker but maybe a trip like this was just what she needed. Get her out in the world a mite, do her a world of good; then if she wanted she could start college in January or even the following fall. Truth to tell he was thinking it’d be nice to be able to bring a señorita or two home now and then and not have to worry about corrupting Hope. Not to mention let someone else take care of her whenever she had one of her little nervous breakdowns.


That night Dick and Harvey had a little chat on the front porch, sitting side by side on a couple of wicker rocking chairs with a stand-up ashtray between them. Dick asked Harvey if he would like to come along with him and Daphne and Hope. Their plan was to drive the Thunderbird back to Frisco and drop it off for Dick’s friend Huey, then take a plane to Philadelphia, have a brief visit with Daphne’s grandmother in Cape May, and then on to New York and finally to Europe. Harvey said thanks but he reckoned he’d hang around here for a little while, maybe work on the ranch if Mr. Johnstone would give him a job.

“Don’t want to leave Attie, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Not just yet anyway.”

“She seems like a really nice girl.”

“That she is.”

“Why don’t you -- you know --”

“Take her with me?”

“Yeah. I mean, not necessarily with us.”

“She won’t leave. She wants to stay with her old man and her brother.”


“They all got radiation poisoning. Each other’s all they got. I’ll hang around a month or so, then I guess I’ll be movin’ on.”

“Oh. Well -- we’ll write then, Harvey, keep in touch --”

“Sure,” said Harvey.

Dick sort of wanted to reach over and put his hand on Harvey’s shoulder, but, well, no, better not. Instead he took out his last joint. He’d been thinking of saving it for the road, but, what the hell, no time like the present. He handed it over to Harvey and lit him up with the trusty old Ronson. Harvey toked deeply several times and then passed the joint to Dick.

“You wanta hear my theory, Mr. Smith, I mean Ridpath?”

He still hadn’t let out the smoke. These kids today were pros.

“Dick,” said Dick, between two tokes.


“What’s your theory?”

Harvey let out the smoke, a great redolent cloud in the crisp cool desert air.

“I think we invented them outer space guys.”

“We did?”

“Yeah. The human race did. I think we invented ‘em. I mean, not on purpose. But, like, our dreams invented ‘em. We had to invent ‘em, ‘cause we ain’t never satisfied with what we got. I mean, the life we got ain’t enough, the universe we got ain’t enough, and, like, we know we’re all alone but we can’t stand to be alone. So we invented this whole other universe out of our dreams. And the people in this other universe don’t even know we invented ‘em. They don’t even know they’re a dream.”

Dick toked deeply, held it in, and exhaled slowly.

“You mean -- they don’t really exist?”

Harvey took the joint.

“Nah, of course they exist. It’s just, we created ‘em. Don’t know how, but we did.”

He toked.

“Wow,” said Dick. “That’s pretty --”

What was the word --

“Heavy,” said Harvey, still holding it in.

Actually Dick was thinking more along the lines of preposterous.

Harvey passed him back the joint, exhaling another great cumulus cloud of smoke.



Dick took a couple of little tokes.

“Don’t -- try to make too much sense of life. Don’t -- fall into that trap.”

He gave the joint back to Harvey.

Harvey stared at the joint.

“I am whacked,” he said.


(Click here for our next fabulous episode. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page for what might sometimes be an up-to-date listing of all other available chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, recently shortlisted for the Kilgore Trout Memorial Award for Vaguely Scientific Fiction.)

Friday, May 8, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 139: the Frug

In our previous episode of this Gold View Award™-winning memoir our hero -- that prince of letters Arnold Schnabel -- was last seen making a getaway with that literally living doll Clarissa, on this sultry night in August of 1963, in the old seaside resort of Cape May, NJ...

“By, the way,” she said, “what’s the story behind that limp of yours?”

My limp, I had forgotten about it.

“I fell from a third-floor window today,” I said. “I should have been injured far more severely, or killed, but Jesus appeared and broke my fall.”

“Ha ha, very amusing.”

“No, it’s true,” I said. “That was him by the way, back in the bar. That fellow who joined us in the booth.”

“Josh, you mean.”


“You know you really are quite insane, Arnold.”

We reached Beach Drive.

“The boardwalk!” she said. “Let’s go!”

And she pulled on my arm.

“Wait for the green light, Clarissa.”

“Oh, yes, the green light. I like the automobiles,” she said. “In my day they were quite different, and not nearly so numerous. Oh, good, the light’s gone green. Let’s cross.”

We walked across, and went up the steps to the promenade. Plenty of people still walked back and forth, although of course without the small children at this hour.

“Which way shall we go?” she asked.

To the right was Frank’s Playland. I certainly didn’t want her dragging me in there. I wasn’t sure my nerves could stand it, to be quite honest.

“Oh, this way, I suppose,” I said, steering her to the left.

“So,” she said as we strolled the boards, arm in arm, “tell me about this dark wanton of yours, this Athena --”

“Elektra,” I said.

“Whatever her name is.”

“Well, she’s a jeweler,” I said, “but she also sings very well, and --”

“God, it’s good to be out and about!” She did a little skip, but kept her hold on my arm. “I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Let me tell you something, Arnold, that Jack Scratch fellow?”


“Don’t ever make a bargain with him. No matter how splendid he makes it sound.”

“I won’t.”

“I made a bargain with him and look what happened to me. Turned into an inanimate doll. What a dreadful bore. But I knew I would make my escape from that shop some day. I only had to be patient. Thank God you and that friend of yours Dick came along. Something about you, or him, or the both of you, broke the spell. And now I am free.”

“Well, I’m very glad, Clarissa.”

“Are you really?”

“Yes,” I said.

“After I called your lady friend a slut and a wanton?”

“Well, I’d prefer it if you wouldn’t say those things,” I said.

“Yes, I suppose you would.”

“Things are different nowadays,” I said.

“Oh, are they?”


“Anything goes, I suppose.”

“Well, not anything,” I said.

“I hope you’re not referring to me breaking into that shop.”

“I didn’t mean to.”


We had come to that group of shops and restaurants on the boardwalk across from the movie theatre.

“Oh!” she said. “Water ice! Take me in here and buy me a water ice, please.”

I took her into the water ice place. There was a short line, and Clarissa pulled me right over behind a big stout man in a Hawaiian shirt and what must have been his wife, who was also stout.

She immediately engaged this couple in a conversation about the best flavors of water ice. It all seemed prosaic enough and harmless. The stout couple paid for their ice and left, and Clarissa and I ordered, raspberry for me, lemon for her. I paid, and we left the shop.

“Wait a moment,” she said. “Here, hold this for me.”

She handed me her paper cone of yellow ice. It matched her dress.

She clicked open her little white purse, then put two fingers under her belt, brought out a folded wad of bank notes and dropped them into the purse.

“Clarissa,” I said, “where did you get that money?”

“From that smelly old hippo,” she said. She put her fingers under her belt on the other side of the buckle and brought out another folded wad of money. “And this was from the lady hippo.” She dropped it also into her purse and clicked it shut. “Now may I have my water ice, please.”

“Clarissa, you mean you picked their pockets?”

“I picked the male hippo’s pocket. The female one, I picked her purse.”

“Clarissa,” I said. “Give me that money. I’m returning it.”

The portly couple were not far away, starting to walk down the steps to the street.

“I will not give it to you. Look at them. They can afford it.”

“How do you know that?”

“Look how rotund they are. They must be well off if they can afford to eat like pigs.”

“Clarissa, give me the money.”

“I’ll deny everything. I’ll make a dreadful fuss. I’ll say you stole the money, Arnold. Who are the police going to believe? A well-spoken young lady like me or a known lunatic like yourself? You’ll be on the first bus back to the insane asylum.”

The overweight couple were now crossing Beach Drive.

“All right,” I said. “But this is it. No more crimes.”

She held out her hand.

“May I have my water ice now?”

I gave it to her, and she licked it.

“But I need clothes,” she said. “I need money.”

She took my arm again and we continued our walk.

“Look,” I said. “I’ll help you. But please stop robbing and stealing.”

“You’ll help me? How? Will you give me money?”

“Well, I suppose I could give you a little money. But what you should do is get a job.”

She turned her head and looked at me, but she said nothing until we came abreast of Convention Hall, complete with its sign advertising “Saturday Night Dancing with Rockin’ Harry Hirsch and His Combo”.

“Oh, is that a dance hall?” she asked.

“It is,” I said.

“You must take me!” she commanded, and she dragged me over to the entrance, at which I duly paid for our admission.

We went through the broad hall and into the vaulted dance floor.

“What is this Ubangi music?” she yelled into my ear.

“It’s called rock ‘n’ roll,” I said.

A band, presumably Rockin’ Harry and his men, played on the stage at the far end, and the dance floor was filled with people, most of them very young.

“And what is that lewd dance they’re doing?”

“It’s called the Twist,” I said.

“I want to do it! Come on!”

She pulled on my arm.

“I can’t do the Twist,” I said.

“Oh, posh, look how simple it is!”

I let her pull me onto the dance floor. She wasn’t happy until she had gotten us right near the center of this sweating mass of gyrating youth. Finally she let go of my arm and began to dance the Twist.

“Look, see?” she said. “Easy as pie. Twist, Arnold.”

And, in my way, I Twisted. I felt like a fool, but I derived some small consolation from the thought that all the other men and boys on this dance floor also looked like fools.

I’ll say one thing for the Twist, it leaves both your hands free, and so we were able to continue to lick our water ice as we danced.

The next dance I had to do was the Mashed Potato, then the Frug, and finally the Hully-Gully. By this point we had long finished our water ices and tossed the paper cones onto the dance floor which was already liberally littered with cigarette butts, candy wrappers and other sundry refuse. Once again, and for the twenty-seventh time this long day, I was soaked with sweat.

When the Hully-Gully finally ended the band switched to a slow song, I believe it was “Blue Velvet”. Clarissa opened her arms beckoningly, but I held up my hands.

“No, Clarissa, please --”

“You won’t dance with me?”

“I’m drenched with sweat. My leg hurts. And I need to rest.”

She on the other hand looked fresh as a daisy, with only a slight beading of perspiration on her porcelain forehead.

“Oh poof!” she said. “All right.”

She held out her hand palm downward and wiggled her fingers dismissively at me.

“Go rest,” she said. “I’ll meet you after a few dances near the entrance.”

She gazed around her.

“I’ll find someone to dance with me,” she said.

I headed through the throng toward the entrance, and there I took a place among a lot of thuggish-looking young men, all of them smoking cigarettes and peering threateningly from under their eyebrows. These fellows didn’t scare me particularly, but on the other hand I didn’t want to have to get drawn into an inane conversation with any of them. So I did something I learned to do a long time ago in low railroadman’s bars, I assumed a very serious and grim expression, with my hands thrust in my pockets, trying to look like a psychopathic killer instead of the mere psychopath I am. But then I realized that to complete the picture I really should have a cigarette hanging from my mouth. Fortunately there was a cigarette machine there in the lobby. I went over to the cashier and got some change, then went over and bought a pack of Pall Malls, not forgetting to pick up the free book of paper matches that slid out so satisfyingly along with the cigarettes.

I walked away from the machine slowly.

It was now around 11:30 and I had not had a cigarette since that first one of the day, the one that had produced that determinative coughing fit.

Well, I had never intended to quit cold. I deserved one now. I tapped the pack a couple of times against my palm, then stripped the cellophane and opened the foil. There they were, twenty of them, twenty long rich doses of ecstasy, the whole of it so much more than a man had any right to ask for in this life.

“Hello, Arnold,” said Clarissa. “Shall we go now?”

“That was quick,” I said.

“I got bored without you. Come. Let’s go.”

She took my arm. With my free hand I put the pack of cigarettes and the unused book of matched back into my pocket, and together we walked out onto the boardwalk again.

(Click here for our next thrilling episode. Please look to the right hand side of this page to find what may very well possibly be an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. “Truly a memoir for our times, although perhaps to say as such is to damn this masterpiece with faint praise.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Bonnie Hunt Show.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 133: sunrise over the desert; New Mexico; September, 1969

And the long night has finally come to an end here at the Johnstone Ranch, that oasis of civility not very far from a town called Disdain...

(Go here for our previous chapter, or here for the first chapter of this Gold View Award©-winning masterpiece from Larry Winchester. “...the Homer of our wretched age.” -- Harold Bloom.)

It was past seven by the time Dick and Daphne finally made it back to their room.

Dick stood in the bleary light and emptied out his pockets.

The Browning.

His cigarette case and lighter.

The transistor radio with the bullet hole through it (he had forgotten that he still had it).

The two small revolvers -- his own trusty Airweight, and the Colt .38 he had taken off of Brad, which he was pretty sure belonged to Mac; he’d return it tomorrow.

They took off their blood-stiffened clothes, threw them across the floor and got naked into the cool unmade bed. It would have been nice to take a bath or a shower but they were just too fagged out. They sat up against the pillows and they each had one more cigarette.

“God, what a night,” said Daphne. “I feel --”

She paused.

Dick turned and looked at her. Daphne often gave one pause but she herself so rarely paused.

“Yes?” said Dick.

“I feel as if I know what it is to be insane.”

Now Dick paused.

“Yeah,” he said.

And it was true, so fucking true, it was all insane.

They smoked.

And Dick thought, well, tomorrow’s another day, as Scarlett O’Hara once said. Even if it is already tomorrow. But just to sleep now. A good long sleep. And then what. What new chaos awaited them?

“Dick, you don’t think those space people will bother us any more, do you?”

“I hope not. After last night I should think they’d prefer never to see us again.”

“Good. That Frank person was a dodgy character. Do you think Papa will stay on earth now?”

“He probably has to.”

“Mama will have a cow.”

“I dare say. Oh, by the way, when you were making those delicious pancakes your father told me he’s giving us some money. A belated wedding present.”

“Oh really? How much?”

“Fifty thousand.”

“From that famous briefcase of his?”


“Is it real?”

“Well, he said it’s indistinguishable from the real thing, but then he also said we should be careful how we spend it. You know, ration it out, or --

“Right, that’ll be the day. Say, Dick?”


“Do you mind that I’m half space-person?”


“You hesitated.”

“Only a half-second.”

“You really don’t mind.”

“Why should I?”

They sat there against the pillows, their cigarette smoke trailing upward in the soft light, and Dick discreetly admired Daphne’s breasts for the ten thousandth time.



“What about Hope?”

“Oh. Right.”

“I know it’s not your fault but if what Frank said was true she’s having your baby.”

“Yeah. I -- I really haven’t quite had time to think about that.”

“What should we do?”

Dick was thinking about this when their door opened and Hope peeked in.

“Speak of the devil,” said Daphne, and she chastely pulled the sheet up over her breasts.

Hope came in and softly closed the door behind her. She was wearing the same nightdress that Dick had seen her in yesterday, the same one Daphne had seen her in the night before yesterday.

“May I come in?”

Daphne told her she was already in, then tapped the bed next to her and told Hope to come over.

Daphne scrunched over closer to Dick, and Hope came over and sat crosslegged on the bed, her nightdress tucked under her knees. She smelled like maple syrup and butter. Daphne gave her a cigarette and then filled her in on the whole business of her and Dick having sex in a flying saucer and how she was now presumably pregnant with Dick’s child.

“Well,” said Hope, finally, “I’m too young to bring up a kid. I want to live life, and travel. I think I’ll just give it up for adoption. I’ll tell Papa it was some guy from the air force base. He’ll have such a fit.”

“I’ve got an idea,” said Daphne, after only a moment. “Come with us for a trip.”

“A trip? Where?”

“It doesn’t matter. Europe.”

“Europe would be nice.”

“Come with us on a trip to Europe and you can have the child there and your father will never know. And then Dick and I will adopt it.”


“Well, I don’t see why not. I mean it’s half Dick’s anyway.”

“That would be great. And then I could visit it sometimes.”

“Sure. Do you think your father will let you go?”

“I’ll handle him.”

“Well, it’s settled then. Is this okay with you, Dick?”

“Uh, yeah, sure,” said Dick, as if the matter hadn’t already been settled.

(Continued here. Please look to the right hand side of this page for what we hope might be an up-to-date listing of all other published chapters of Larry Winchester’s A Town Called Disdain™, soon to be a major motion picture produced and directed by Larry Winchester and starring Dane Clark and Martha Vickers, coming to a drive-in near you on a double bill with Larry’s Count Dracula’s Niece, starring Barbara Steele and Vincent Price.)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 138: trouble!

Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel continues his long day’s journey into night in the company of the Victorian doll Clarissa, who has now assumed the form of a real live young lady of unknown provenance.

The time: 11:02 p.m., August 10, 1963.

The place: near the corner of Jackson Street and Carpenters Lane, in the pleasant Victorian resort of Cape May, NJ.

(Go here for our previous chapter or here for the barely remembered beginning of this Gold View Award-winning masterpiece.)

“I really was intending just to go home,” I said.

“And what about me?” she asked. “Do you know how long I’ve been sitting in that dusty shop?”

“I have no idea.”

“Since nineteen hundred and ten.”

“Oh, well, that is a long time,” I said.

“Indeed it is.”

“Well, all right then,” I said.

I let her take my arm, and we started down the sidewalk towards the ocean.

A man and a woman were strolling towards us from the opposite direction.

“I love your dress!” said the woman to Clarissa.

“Oh, thank you.”

“Are you a tour guide?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“A -- you know -- a Victorian tour guide.”

“I most certainly am not.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said the woman. “It’s just --”

“Is it just that I am not walking about displaying my lower limbs for all the world to see like some wild aborigine?”

“Pardon me?”

“Hmmph! Come, Arnold,” said Clarissa, and she pulled me along the sidewalk and away from the flabbergasted man and woman.

Tour guide,” she said.

“Well, you can’t blame her, Clarissa,” I said.

“Because I’m not dressed like some Hottentot?”

“Well, it’s just that your dress is a little -- outdated.”

She stopped, and looked down at her outfit. Then she looked down the street and across the street, obviously observing the attire of some other passing women and girls.

“All right, I’ll concede that you have a point," she said. "Listen, you can get rid of that box now.”

She referred to her grey cardboard doll box, which I still dutifully carried under one arm.

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes, we won’t be needing it any more.”

“Well, okay. The next trash can I see.”

“Oh, bother. Give it to me.”

I did as she asked, and she unceremoniously tossed it over a fence and onto someone’s lawn.

“Now,” she said. “I’ll need some new togs. Do you know of a good dress shop?”

“No, I wouldn’t, but --”

“No, of course you wouldn’t. What’s that up there?”

She referred to a store called the Mitzi Shoppe, up ahead and across the street.

“It’s a -- um -- ladies’ shop,” I mumbled. “But it’s probably closed.”

“Let’s have a look.”

A few seconds later we were standing outside the shop, which indeed was closed, although the display window was still lit.

“There are some pretty things here,” said Clarissa.

“We can come back tomorrow,” I said.

“Cover for me,” she said.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Keep an eye on the street.”


“Don’t ask so many questions.”

She took a quick glance up and down the street, then took a pin out of her hair.

She went up to the door, and, pretending to be looking in at the wares inside, she began picking the lock.

“Clarissa!” I whispered. “You can’t do that!”

“Oh, be still,” she said. “Some knight in shining armor you are.”

“I never claimed to be a knight in shining armor!”

“Hold on. I think I’ve got it.”

Sure enough, the lock clicked, she turned the knob, and opened the door.

She looked back over her shoulder at me.

“Well, are you coming in?”


“Coward. Stay outside then. Let me know if a policeman comes. Just rap on the window.”


But she was already in the store, closing the door behind her.

I felt horribly exposed. I quickly walked across the street to the opposite sidewalk. What I should do, I thought, was just go home. She didn’t know where I lived. I owed her nothing, and, after all, she was breaking the law. In fact, what I should do, I thought, as a good citizen, what I should really do is walk to the nearest phone booth and call the police. But then I thought, wait, she’s been sitting in a dusty antique shop for more than fifty years. Perhaps I should not judge her. Perhaps --

I realized that I must look suspicious, just standing there on the pavement, so I started walking back up Jackson in the direction we had come from.

Then I felt guilty. I was abandoning her. Where would she go? Back to Mr. Arbuthnot’s shop? I stopped, hesitated, then jaywalked across the street again. I hesitated once more. I turned and looked down the block, toward the shop. I found myself wishing she would just hurry. I started walking again, towards the shop, but very slowly, trying to seem casual.

I came to the shop, looked in. There in the shadows I could see Clarissa, holding a dress up at arm’s length. Anyone passing by and looking in could just as easily have seen her.

I fidgeted. I looked back down the street toward town, but no one was coming on this side of the street, thank God. I turned and looked up towards the beach, and the coast was clear on that front also. I went to the shop door, turned the knob. She had left the door unlocked. I opened it and went inside.

“What do you think of this one?” she asked, holding out the dress.

“It’s very nice,” I said. “Now hurry. Anyone can see us in here.”

“You really think it’s nice?”

“Yes, it’s -- it’s -- beautiful.”

“Well, if you say so. Let me try it on. There’s a changing room back there I believe.”

She went through the dark shop to its rear and opened another door. I went and crouched behind a mannequin, keeping a look-out on the street. People passed by, some of them even gazed into the display windows, but they all continued on. My body had cooled off after my escapade with Elektra in her foyer, but now I began to sweat again in this un-airconditioned dim shop.

Finally I heard the door open behind me, and I turned.

“How do I look, she asked?”

It was a yellow dress of seersucker, with a blue cloth belt and a full skirt, with a brighter blue ribbon at the bodice, short puffy sleeves. She did look good.

“Swell,” I said. “Now let’s go.”

“I need shoes!”

I looked down and saw that she had taken off the lace-up Victorian boots she had been wearing before.

“Okay, but please hurry,” I said.

Fortunately the shop only stocked a small assortment of shoes, and she soon settled on a yellow pair because they matched her dress.

I looked away as she bent over and put them on.

“Well, how do I look?” she asked.

I turned and looked. For all the world she looked like a smart young woman of the present day, at least as far as I could tell.

“Great,” I said. “Now let’s go.”

“I need a handbag.”

I assumed my crouching position behind the mannequin again, and finally she tapped me on the shoulder. She had found a shiny white leather purse, a small one with a long thin gold lamé strap.

“Nice?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“It’s small, but then I don’t have anything to put in it. Not yet, anyway.”

“Right," I said. "So, shall we go then?”

“Of course.”

I went to the door. I couldn’t see anyone outside.

“Okay, let’s beat it,” I said.

I opened the door, she slipped out past me, I closed the door. She took my arm, we left the entrance and headed down toward the beach.

“Don’t walk so fast, Arnold,” she said.

I slowed down.

What I would do, tomorrow -- no, tomorrow was Sunday, but Monday -- first thing Monday morning, I would buy a money order -- would fifty dollars cover it? -- and then I would mail it to the shop, anonymously. That would make it okay. That would sort of make it okay.

But what would the shopkeeper make of the Victorian dress and boots Clarissa had left in the dressing room?

Well, I couldn’t worry about that now.

(Continued here, and until someone or some thing stops us. Feel free to look to the right hand side of this page for what one hopes to be an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. “Not just a memoir, but a roadmap for the soul.” -- Harold Bloom.)

"Your mojo don't work on your baby like mine." -- Tina Turner