Friday, July 31, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 156: collapse

In our previous episode of this Gold View Award™-winning masterpiece (newcomers may go here for the first chapter) our hero Arnold Schnabel found himself about to be hijacked by four elderly degenerates in quaint old Cape May’s The Pilot House (“Featuring the “Swingin’ Sounds of Summer with ‘Freddy Ayres and Ursula’™!”) when suddenly his friend and so-called savior Josh emerges from the men’s room, somewhat under the weather, on this long hot night in August of 1963…

“Yes, do join us,” said Ursula to Josh. She had been clenching her cigarette holder in her teeth, but now she took it out between two stick-like fingers, while still holding onto my arm with her other hand. “Frankly,” she said to Josh, “you look as if you could use a little pick-me-up, my friend.”

Josh simply blinked at her, and then he addressed me.

“Why are these people pulling on your arms, Arnold?”

“We were not pulling,” said Ursula, and putting the stem of her cigarette holder back between her teeth, she began caressing the arm she had just been pulling.

“No, not pulling at all,” said Freddy, patting my other arm affectionately. His cigarette was between his perfect dentures, and a bit of ash fell onto my bare forearm.

“And why were you fellows pushing him?” said Josh to Mr. Jones and Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Pushing?” said Jones. He too had a cigarette between his leathery old lips. He took it out. “Who’s pushing?”

“Oh, certainly not pushing,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, puffing on his Meerschaum.

“Arnold’s friend,” said Freddy brightly to Josh.

“Yes? You can call me Josh by the way.”

“Josh it is then. Listen.”

Freddy finally, and seemingly with reluctance, relinquished my arm, then took a couple of graceful steps closer to Josh.

“Listen, Josh,” he said. And getting up on his tiptoes just as he had done with me (I noticed now that he wore pointy patent leather slip-on shoes) he cupped his little hand to the side of his mouth and whispered something in the direction of Josh’s ear.

“Oh, if it’s pot you want,” said Josh, “here, I’ve got one --”

“No no no,” said Freddy, waving his hands, and looking nervously around. “You fellows are so brazen!”

“Bold as brass,” said Ursula. “I like that in a man.”

“Come on up to our apartment,” said Freddy.

“Oh, no,” said Josh.

“Why not?’

“Look at me, I’ve just been puking my guts out.”

“Yes? And?” said Mr. Jones.

“Jonesie, be silent,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “You know, Josh,” he said, “I have just the thing for you.” He patted his breast pocket. “A few drags of this special, uh, something I have in my pocket here and you’ll be ready in no time to leap up and dance the boogie-woogie. Or whatever it is you young people dance nowadays.”

“I believe it’s the watusi’s all the rage nowadays,” said Mr. Jones.

“A bowl of my borscht is what this boy needs,” said Ursula. “A nice cold bowl of borscht with a shot of vodka in it.”

For a moment Josh looked as if he were going to be sick again.

He took his Pall Malls out of his shirt pocket.

“Look, have a nice time, everyone,” he said.

He shook up a cigarette, and put it in his mouth. Freddy was right there with his thin gold lighter, and Josh allowed him to light his cigarette. Everyone was now smoking, except for me.

“You know, Josh,” said Freddy, “you really would feel better with a bowl of Ursula’s borscht inside you.”

“And a bowl of my opiated kif,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“What I do not understand, gentleman,” said Ursula to Josh (still caressing my arm, as if it were a small dog or a cat), “is that you say you have just puked your guts out, and indeed you look as if you have puked your guts out, and yet you smell like fresh gardenias.”

Josh slowly exhaled a good lungful of smoke, and then said, “I rinsed my mouth out before leaving the men’s room. Splashed a little cold water on my face and neck.”

“Oh, did you now,” said Ursula. She removed her cigarette holder from between those scarlet old lips and smiled. “Yes, my dear, I will fix you a nice bowl of borscht.”

“Some other time,” said Josh, and he started to walk past our little group, staggering just slightly.

Ursula pushed past me, almost knocking me over (fortunately Mr. Jones and Mr. Arbuthnot steadied me), and locked the talons of her right hand onto Josh’s forearm.

“I can tell you are a gentleman,” she said, speaking without removing her cigarette holder from her teeth.

He said nothing to this.

“You are dressed somewhat raffishly, but this is a handmade shirt, of the finest Egyptian cotton.” She fingered the damp cloth. “You dropped a double sawbuck into our jar as if it were a piece of tissue paper.”

“You’re quite welcome,” said Josh.

She removed her holder from her mouth with her left hand.

“May I ask if you are married, sir?”

“No,” said Josh, prying her hand away from his arm. “I mean, yes, you may ask, and, no, I’m not married.”

“I must introduce you to my granddaughter.”

“Someday,” said Josh.

“Why not right now? She is upstairs.”

“You have a granddaughter upstairs?”

“Is that so strange?”

“Well, I suppose not.”

“Her name is Magda,” said Ursula. “Very pretty girl.”

“I’m sure she is,” said Josh.

He put a knuckle to his lips, and looked as if he were fighting off a fresh wave of nausea. For some reason I remember that a new song was playing on the jukebox now, the one about it’s being Judy’’s turn to cry.

“What’s a matter, don’t you like pretty girls?” asked Ursula.

“Oh, no,” said Josh, “I mean, yes, of course I do.”

(I would like to interpolate a confession here, if I may stop the action, such as it is, for a moment, and my confession is that inwardly at this point I breathed a great sigh of relief that once again thanks to Josh I was no longer the center of attention. Perhaps escape was a possibility after all.)

“Come then,” said Ursula. “We will introduce you.”

“No, really,” said Josh -- “Mrs. Ayres is it?”

“Call me Ursula.”

“Ursula, I think really I should just --”

“Tomorrow we may all be dead,” said Ursula. “What are you going to do? Go home? Sleep?”

“I suppose so.”

“You have the rest of your life to sleep.”

“Look at me, I’m a mess.”

“Who cares? We are all bohemians here. Now come. A bowl of borscht. Something to smoke and to drink. A pretty girl.” She caressed Josh’s arm even more sensually than she had mine. I felt a slight twinge of jealousy, or perhaps I should say envy. “This is what life is about,” she said.

“Is it?” said Josh.

“What else would it be about, you foolish boy?”

“I don’t know. Raising children, helping other people, doing good?”

“You are joking, right?”

“Well, look, let’s head up, gang,” said Freddy.

“Not without Josh,” said Ursula. She hadn’t taken her eyes away from his. “Come, my darling,” she said.

“Look,” said Mr. Jones, “if you people are gonna stand here all night I’m going to go back and get our Manhattans.”

And off he went, and pretty quickly for such an old man.

“I don’t know,” said Josh. “Are you staying, Arnold?”

“Oh, no,” I said. “I’m going home.”

“Yes,” he said. “You’re probably right. You’re probably, uh --”

Suddenly his eyes rolled up into his head, he swayed back and forth, he attempted to lift his cigarette to his lips, dropped it, and then fell forward, collapsing into my arms.

(Will this night ever end? All we can say is: continued here. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page for a presumably current listing of links to all other extant chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, absolutely free for a limited time only. Offer void in states still possessing a shred of decency.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 5: good daughter

In our previous chapter of this “Rabelaisian romp through the wacky world of Hollywood” {J.J. Hunsecker, noted columnist} our hero, that raffish middle-aged hack Buddy Best found himself trapped at an opening-night party at the beach house of the dreaded Ancient Mariner...

(Go here to see the first chapter of this serial, soon to be broadcast on Masterpiece Theatre, starring William Powell as Buddy, John Barrymore as The Ancient Mariner, and Miss Myrna Loy as Cordelia.)

Buddy held some little fish that oozed a brackish oil all over his fingers. He’d taken one bite and was waiting for a good opportunity to toss the remainder to a fat black cat staring at him from under the table when the Mariner loomed up again. A dose of pepper spray was what this fool needed.

“Butterfish,” he said. “Guess what the marinade is,” pronouncing it marinahd. “I adapted it ever so slightly from a Breton peasant recipe.”

And he bared his yellowed sea-dog teeth.

“Uh, I dunno --”

And I don’t give a fuck, you Bretonphiliac fool --


Motor oil? Brylcreem? Used greasepaint?

“Beats me,” said Buddy.

“Olive oil, sea salt -- and it must be sea salt, coarsely-ground -- pepper -- fresh-ground pepper --” he tossed that in quickly because it went almost but not quite without saying, “and -- here’s the secret -- paprika.” His kohl-rimmed eyes widened and bulged and then relaxed. “Amazing, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” said Buddy.

“Go ahead, just eat the whole thing, bones and head and all. Delicious!”

What are you going to do?

Buddy shoved the whole fucking thing into his mouth.

The Mariner watched Buddy chew.

“Good, eh?”

Buddy nodded, chewing, forcing it down.

“Mmm. Yeah. Good.”

He noticed that the Mariner was wearing wooden clogs.

“Would you like the recipe?”

“Mmm, yeah. Sure,” said Buddy.

The Mariner produced a little leather notepad and a fountain pen from within his tweed jacket.

Buddy picked up a paper napkin and wiped his lips and his fingers while the Mariner wrote away.

It was true the fart had taken off the Ancient Mariner cap he’d worn during his performance, but on the other hand he’d put on a black beret. Which was worse? They were equally bad, but the fact that the Mariner had replaced a bad thing with an equally bad thing made the beret seem worse. Also he had an earring. No, it was a stud. And he was wearing one of those collarless dress shirts that had been all the rage about ten years ago.

Buddy took a good gulp of wine. One thing about that fish, it was so foul it made the wine taste almost not bad.

Finally the Mariner tore off the page and handed it to Buddy. Whatever he’d written was mostly illegible. Which was okay.

“Thanks, Stephen.”

“The peasants know,” said the Mariner, watching to make sure that Buddy folded up the recipe and put it in his pocket. (Later that night Buddy would rip up this recipe into tiny little pieces and flush them down the toilet.) “Simplicity. Every year I go to the same little fishing village in Bretagne. I love it there. I come back revitalized.”


“Really. You and Joan should come with me this summer. I rent the same little chaumière every year. Chaumière, a thatched cottage,” he translated. “No electricity. No gas.” Pronounced gazz. “No running water but for a well. And I adore it.”

“Sounds great.”

“You should come, really. I’ll be there the entirety of July. I’m quite serious, I want you to come. Both of you. You and Joan. Really.”

No. Fuck you. Really,” thought Buddy, but what he said was:

“Well, thanks, Stephen, but July I’ll be pretty busy, pre-production for a movie --”

“Oh, more’s the pity --”

“Yeah, hey, Stephen, where are you from?”


(“No, of course not originally, you dickwad, I meant where are you from last week, or yesterday, or tomorrow, you annoying fuck.”)

“Uh, yeah. Originally.”

“New Jersey, actually.”


“But that was years ago.”


“Long ago and far away.”

Long ago and far enough to pick up that phony-ass accent anyway.

Then Joan was there with her two caballeros (And Buddy finally figured out that they were Vladimir and Estragon.) and the conversation turned to how really marvelous Nicole Kidman had been in The Hours even if she had won the Oscar, and Buddy went off to try to take a piss. He couldn’t find the bathroom, and wound up outside on a deck in back of the house. He went down some wooden steps. A forbidding greyish mass lay about ten yards away in the darkness; a dead baby whale most likely. Beyond that was the beach and the ocean. He could have gone and pissed behind the whale, but fuck it. So he stood his wine glass on one of the steps and pissed on one of the pilings holding up the Mariner’s deck, which he very much enjoyed doing. He zipped up and decided to light a cigar and hide out here for as long as possible. As he drew on the flame he saw the food-table chick standing or lurking in the darkness under the far corner of the deck.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hi,” said Buddy.

She glided over, silent as a cat on the sand. She held one of the peasant tumblers in her hand, half-filled with something dark.

“I took your advice,” she said. “Except I went for the red.”

“Red’s cool,” said Buddy. “How’d your cheese puffs turn out?”

“Burnt. But fortunately I’d prepped another batch so I stuck them in the oven. I just now took them in. He never even noticed one way or the other.”

“Great,” said Buddy. She stood there looking at him. “So, uh, you’re Stephen’s daughter?”


She looked down. She was about twenty-five, twenty-four. She didn’t seem to be wearing any make-up at all and her face was very white.

“I’m Buddy by the way.”

She looked up, sideways.

“I know.”

“And you’re -- uh -- um -- Lydia?”


“Ah, right. Like in, what was it, Shakespeare --”

King Lear.”

“Right, she was the, um --”

“The good daughter,” she said.


“It’s all for you, you know.”


“The whole party. It’s all for you. Oh, I mean, my dad loves to throw parties anyway, but this time he got better food and more of it, and better wine.”

Better food? Better wine?

“So this Chantefleur’s the good stuff, huh?”

“It was on sale. He usually gets this really cheap Chilean wine. He likes to claim it’s better than any California. But he writes these parties off for his taxes anyway.”

She put her lower teeth over the lower right portion of her upper lip.

“Cordelia. Have we -- I get the feeling I’ve seen you before.”

“You mean before tonight?”


“Well, maybe --”

Up close like this in the light from the window she wasn’t too bad looking, in a first-Mrs. Rochester kind of way. Her eyes were big and dark and her brows were arched. Her mouth was slightly open, showing a lot of very white teeth that seemed to glow from some hidden source. Her hair was tied back but some of it had come loose and curled down along one side of her face. And come to think of it with the breeze blowing against her dress you could see her body wasn’t too --

“What did you think of the show tonight?” she asked.

“Well, uh --”

“You can be honest.”

“Okay,” said Buddy. “I really liked the French piece. I only understood about one tenth of it, but I really dug it. It was -- very moving. But the rest of the show -- at least the parts I didn’t sleep through -- I don’t know -- and just between you and me, I’m including my wife’s performance -- well, uh -- but then I did like the French thing, a lot.”

She stared at him, her mouth open. Then she said:

“I agree with you, except I thought the French piece sucked too.”

One of Buddy’s rules was never to disagree with a woman on the subject of another woman, so he said:

“Maybe you’re right. It was a little over the top.”

She pressed her lips together as if she’d just put on lipstick, then she cocked her head a bit to one side and stared at him. Okay. Buddy drew on his cigar and gazed out at the dead whale and the ocean.

“I saw you peeing,” she said. Buddy looked at her. Her head was upright now. “Not that I mind,” she said. “I pee outdoors sometimes.” She turned and peered at a trashcan a few feet away. “If you want to smoke your cigar upstairs my dad won’t mind,” she said to the trashcan. When it didn’t say anything she turned her head and looked at Buddy.

“Oh --” said Buddy, “I thought I’d chill out down here for a bit.”

“Aren’t you enjoying the party?”

“Well --”

“You were bored.”


She cocked her head to the other side now.

“You’re not like what I expected you to be,” she said, the “be” trailing off into a sort of growling in the back of her throat --

“Why did you expect anything at all?”

Her head straightened up again.

“Well, it’s just -- I know Joan, and -- and --”

Her eyes widened and her body stiffened.

“Excuse me,” she whispered, and she ducked off into the darkness under the house.

She was cuckoo.

Or maybe not -- Buddy heard the squeak of a screen door followed by a clumping on the deck above and then, sweeping aside an imaginary arras, the Mariner himself appeared at the top of the stairs.

(Continued here, and on, barring death, insanity or imprisonment. Kindly refer to the right hand column of this page for a listing of all other available chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House. A Jonathan Shields Production.)

Monday, July 27, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 155: let’s dance

Previously in this Gold View Award©-winning memoir of “a man who went insane and then discovered he was the last sane man in the world” {Harold Bloom, on The Joey Bishop Show}, our hero Arnold Schnabel found himself being invited by the ancient musicians Freddy and Ursula to come up to their “digs” above the Pilot House for the purpose of smoking a large and powerful reefer which has somehow found its way into Arnold’s pocket on this momentous night in August of 1963, in that quaint seaside town of Cape May, NJ…

She put her twig of an arm through my right arm, and began walking past me and around me, turning my body so that it faced away from the barroom. Freddy kept his own hand on my left arm throughout this maneuver, they moved efficiently but gently, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers forced to work with some big clumsy oaf like Jack Carson, and now I found myself being frog-marched by these two elderly elves back into the hallway from which I had just emerged.

“Wait,” I said, “what about my friend?”

“Your friend is a big boy,” said Ursula.

“But he’ll wonder where I am.”

Suddenly I felt someone tugging on the “tennis tails” of my polo shirt. I twisted around and saw that it was Mr. Jones hanging onto me, and next to him was Mr. Arbuthnot. They had both re-donned their straw hats.

“Arnold, where are these degenerate fogies taking you?” said Jones.

I stopped, but Freddy and Ursula continued to pull on my arms. They were like two little children trying to drag their father into a ice cream shop.

“Yeah, we got a fresh Manhattan waiting for you back there, fella,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Hello, Ursula,” said Mr. Jones, talking past me. He was still holding onto the back of my shirt.

“Hello, Jonesie,” said Ursula. “How’s tricks? Still dealing them from the bottom of a marked-up deck?”

“Heh-heh,” said Mr. Jones. “You are -- if Freddy here will forgive me -- hello, Freddy --”

“Hello, Jonesie,” said Freddy, not relinquishing his own firm hold on my forearm.

“You are,” said Mr. Jones, addressing Ursula again, “a firecracker, madam! Don’t you agree, Arbuthnot?”

“Ursula is indeed,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, “and always has been an exceedingly explosive as well as an extraordinarily handsome woman.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” said Ursula. “Except into my knickers. And now if you will excuse us, gentlemen.”

“But where are you taking our Mr. Schnabel?” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“To our den of iniquity,” said Freddy, smiling.

“You’ve rarely invited me up to your rooms,” said Mr. Jones.

“And there is a reason for that, dear Jonesie,” said Ursula. “No, I’m wrong. What I mean to say is that there is a multitude of reasons.”

“What about me?” asked Mr. Arbuthnot. “What am I if not respectable?”

“A disreputable old pervert,” said Ursula.

“Let us come up,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “We’ll behave.”

“No,” said Ursula.

“Okay, here’s the thing,” said Freddy, in a low voice. “We’re going upstairs to --” he made a surreptitious and quick smoking gesture --”blow some gage. How much do you have, Arnold?”

“Oh, just the one,” I said, I was turning my head back and forth to keep up with all of this, these two warring camps of senior midgets to the back and to the front of me.

Freddy shrugged.

“Just the one doobie, fellas, sorry. If we had more we’d invite you.”

“Oh, wait,” said Arbuthnot. “I’ve got hashish!”

“You do?” said Freddy.

"Opiated hashish," said Mr. Arbuthnot, "from Morocco, the finest quality!"

“Well, come on up then, fellows!” said Freddy.

“Sure, glad to have you, chaps,” said Ursula.

I knew right then that I must take immediate and decisive action.

“Listen,” I said.

“We’ll talk upstairs,” said Ursula. “Come on. Times a-wasting.”

I felt myself borne along down into the hallway -- Freddy and Ursula each pulling an arm and with Mr. Jones and Mr. Abuthnot pushing me from behind. I felt like Gulliver being carried away by the Lilliputians.

I’ve never been much of a one for tavern-brawls, especially ones involving packs of homunculi already on the very verge of the grave, but I nonetheless now determined, if necessary, to use main force and perhaps even a couple of hand-to-hand combat tricks I might recall from that twenty year’s distant army basic training. I gave them one last chance.

“Wait a minute,” I said, trying to brake my feet.

“Save it for upstairs, Arnold,” said Freddy, only barely smiling now, “we’ve gotta go on again in fifteen minutes.”

“But, but --”

Freddy pushed open a door marked “Private. Do Not Enter.

I could see a narrow winding ascending staircase.

“Arnold, what’s going on?”

It was Josh, coming out of the men’s room just down the hallway.

His dark blond hair hung lank, as if it had been dipped in a vat of oil, and his normally burnished skin was now the color and looked like the texture of the belly of a dead flounder.

His shirt was sopping with grey moisture, his khakis were wet and stained at the knees. His eyes were red, and weary.

“Who’s the hobo?” said Mr. Jones.

“He’s not a hobo,” I said. “He’s my friend.”

“We were just going up to our flat,” said Freddy. “Would you care to join us, Arnold’s friend?”

(Continued here and for only Arnold knows how long. Please check the right hand side of this page for a quite possibly up-to-date listing of links to all other extant chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. And don’t forget: sign up now for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Arnold Schnabel Cape May Walking Tour. A few places are still available. No minors allowed.)

Friday, July 24, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 4: swell party

Let us rejoin our hero, that low-budget Hollywood auteur Buddy Best, as marital obligation drags him kicking and screaming (but only inwardly) to after-theatre festivities down in beautiful Venice Beach, California, at the house of the man known only (at least to Buddy) as “the Ancient Mariner”...

(Go here to see our previous episode or here to go to the first chapter of this novel that none other than the noted columnist J.J. Hunsecker has called, “a searing indictment of the more than murky mores of Tinseltown”.)

Somewhere along the way it had become cool to live in houses or apartments that didn’t look like houses or apartments, but looked like or formerly were garages or sweatshops or greenhouses or prisons. The Mariner’s house was like a big barn on wooden pilings. By the time Buddy and Joan got there the joint was already crowded with people talking loud and fast, waving their hands around and letting out shrieks and guffaws. Some sort of Middle-Eastern or maybe North African music was playing on a stereo. Two old gay guys immediately rushed up to Joan and began kissing and hugging her, and Buddy backed up against something hard, which seemed to be a medieval apparatus for gouging people’s eyes out. (Okay, it was a bottle-corking machine.) A rusty harpoon was mounted on the wall behind, pointing to a framed photograph of Dylan Thomas, and below Dylan on a rough wooden table stood a flickering old oil lamp, giving off a smell like smoldering compost.

Suddenly Joan introduced Buddy to the two old flamers (whose names went right through his ears without stopping) and they were telling him how wonderful Joan was and how lucky he was when the Ancient Mariner himself, still in his stage make-up, shoved his way through the flamers and shouted Joan’s name as if she was a block away and in the path of a speeding fire truck; the old boys folded their hands and shut up and smiled like good courtiers as the Mariner kissed Joan on both cheeks and then turned to Buddy with one eyebrow cocked.

“I see you were admiring my lamp.”

“Uh, yeah.”

“I love that piece. 19th Century -- from Bretagne.”

“No kidding,” said Buddy.

“From Brittany,” said the Mariner, thus letting it be known that he could understand his own French.

He went on about the stinky lamp and some other shit, and yes, he spoke with a slight English accent, kind of like a British actor doing a bad American accent. He didn’t bother to introduce himself, but he did say how he had been so looking forward to meeting Buddy, and he echoed the old dudes’ sentiments about Joan and how tremendously lucky Buddy was. Who tuned him out, smiling modestly and nodding in three-quarter profile while shooting glances at the other guests. He was hoping to see the French actress babe but it seemed she had a bit more sense than anyone else here since she wasn’t here. And come to think of it she hadn’t come out for the curtain call. Well, good for her.

The Mariner jabbered on, and Buddy longed for a drink. His trained eye noticed a buffet table at the opposite side of the room and, yes, so near and yet so far, there were large bottles on the table which with any luck had alcoholic beverages in them. A dark-haired chick in an Emily Brontë-on-granola dress stood behind the table. Even from this distance she looked depressed, which endeared her to Buddy.

“Oh, do help yourself to the groaning board, Buddy,” said the Mariner. “I made it all myself. Well, with a little help from Cordelia.”

Buddy assumed that Cordelia was the girl in sackcloth and ashes at the food table. He could only assume because the Mariner gave no further explication. She seemed way too young to be his wife, so maybe she was his daughter, which would explain her depression.

“Or perhaps,” leered the Mariner, “I may fetch you a modest libation first.”

Now the old salt was talking.

“Sure,” said Buddy, “I’ll even take an immodest one.”

“Ah, un verre de vin de pays?”

“Right on.”

Blanc ou rouge?”

“White’s cool,” you asshole.

Et pour madame?” said the Mariner, batting his mascara’d lashes at Joan. “Blanc ou rouge?”

“Blonkooroozh?” asked Joan, in her best Nebraskan accent.

“Uh, yes, white or red.”

“Uh, white blonkooroozh for me, Stephen.”

And without betraying the merest hint of supercilious amusement, and thus suggesting to Buddy that he might not after all be a complete failure as an actor, the Ancient Mariner turned and heaved off through the crowd to the food-and-drinks table.

After a very quick tumblerful of not-cold blonk, Buddy wanted another one, so he told the Mariner he’d like to check out the food, and before the Mariner could offer to accompany him Buddy slipped off to the buffet. He said hello to the just-got-out-of-shock-treatment chick and she stared at him in what looked like apprehension or astonishment.

“Hey, could I have some more of that white?” asked Buddy. He helped her out by pointing to the 1.5 liter of Chantefleur Chardonnay.

“Oh!” And she took the bottle in both hands and filled his authentic nubbly peasant glass to the brim.

“Thanks,” said Buddy. “Cheers.”

He had to bend over and lift the glass very slowly to his lips to keep the wine from spilling. It was not good as well as not cold, but it was wine, which meant it had alcohol in it, which was very good. The girl was looking at him as if she were about to say something, and Buddy smiled politely. But instead of speaking she unscrewed the cap from a two-liter plastic bottle of Diet Coke, took the bottle in both hands and filled up another one of those sturdy glasses, to the brim. She recapped the bottle, picked up the glass, again with both hands, drank deeply, sighed, and then stared down toward the floor.

“What you need is some rum in that,” said Buddy.

She looked at him. She seemed oddly familiar. Or maybe just odd.

“Really?” she said.

“It might help.”

She gnawed her upper lip for a few seconds, and then said, “Do I look like I need help?”

“You look like you could use a real drink.”

“We don’t have any rum,” she said. “All we have is wine.”

Her voice had a weird gurgly quality. Maybe she wasn’t psycho and she just had a cold.

“Wine’ll do,” said Buddy.

She closed her lips and looked away again.

“Oh shit!”

She smacked herself upside the head.


“I forgot the shoe!”

“The, uh, shoe?”

Or, maybe she was psycho.

“Not shoe-shoe. French chou. For cabbage. Choux au fromage!”

“Ah. Cabbage with -- cheese?”

That sounded not-good but expectable.

“No! Fucking cheese puffs! I have to take them out of the oven!”


And she swirled away offstage in that recycled flour sack she had on.

Okay, bring on the cheese shoes; Buddy started picking, and, big surprise: the food sucked. But he lingered by the table anyway, which seemed to be made out of a length of old boardwalk, because this was better than going back to that little crab-nebula of boringness that was Joan and the Mariner and his Two Stooges. Little lost shoe-girl stayed backstage, and on the stereo now it was Jacques Brel or some other frog singing “The Impossible Dream”, in French, which didn’t make the song suck any less than it did in English...

(Continued here, unless our ratings plunge precipitately. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House. “I eagerly await each new episode, my breath firmly bated.” -- Harold Bloom.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 154: holding

In our previous episode of this Gold View Award©-winning masterpiece (“Sprawling and appalling.” -- Harold Bloom) our hero Arnold Schnabel was just leaving the men’s room of the Pilot House (“Groove to the ‘in sounds’ of Freddy Ayres and Ursula, seven nights a week, matinée shows on weekends!”) in the then slightly shabby resort of Cape May, NJ, on a certain Saturday night in August of 1963...

I went out into the barroom, and Freddy was speaking into the microphone, telling the people that he and Ursula would be back after a very short break, and to keep drinking because the more they drank the better he and Ursula sounded. Ursula stood next to him, lifting her saxophone strap off of her shoulder and setting the instrument down in a metal stand.

But as I walked past the stage, Freddy, sitting his accordion down on the stage floor, leaned forward on his stool and said to me, smiling: “How is your buddy?”

“My -- buddy?”

How odd it was that the whole world seemed to know my business, and I barely knew my own business myself.

“Yes, your generous friend --” he gestured toward the tip jar on his little side table, the contents of which Ursula was unceremoniously dumping into a large sequined purse.

“He’s been in the men’s room quite some time, your pal,” said Freddy. “Is he all right?”

“He had a bit too much to drink,” I said. “He’ll be okay in a little while, I think.”

Ursula, having clicked her purse shut and slinging its strap over her shoulder, came down the two steps from the stage. She picked up her cigarette holder from the ashtray on the little table there and pulled out the dead butt.

“May I know your name, gentleman?” she asked me.

“Arnold,” I said. “Arnold Schnabel.”

“Very please to meet you,” she said.

I had never actually heard her speak before. She had some sort of foreign accent.

She held out her left hand to me, palm downward. I hadn’t quite realized it before, but she is a very small old lady, perhaps only four feet nine, although her hairdo probably gains her five or six inches at least.

“Don’t leave me hanging, man,” she said.

“Oh, sorry,” I said, and I took her small yellow hand in mine. I didn’t know what to do with it, but she herself raised her hand, pulling my hand behind it, to my lips, and so I duly kissed those fragile knuckles which felt as if I could crush them to dust in my own brakeman’s paw with only the slightest effort.

“Easy there, big boy,” said Freddy, who had also come down from the stage and who now stood quite close to me.

I let go of Ursula’s hand, and it slowly descended, like a falling oak leaf filmed in slow motion.

“Freddy Ayres is my name,” said Freddy, “and you’ve already met my boss lady here.”

“Uh, yes,” I said. “Arnold Schnabel, sir. Pleased to meet you.”

I was terrified that I would have to shake his hand. He too was a tiny creature, and he looked even more delicate than Ursula. Forget about crushing his hand, what if I accidentally pulled his entire arm off? How would he play the accordion?

Fortunately though he was busying himself with the ritual of taking out cigarettes and offering the pack to me. Old Golds.

“No thanks,” I said.

Freddy offered the pack to Ursula, and she took one and screwed it into her holder.

Freddy put a cigarette in his own lips, and then gave Ursula a light with a lighter, a thin gold-plated one.

“Well, nice meeting you,” I said.

“Wait a second,” said Freddy, lighting his own cigarette, and smiling. “May I ask you a question?”

“Well, sure,” I said.

Music had come on the jukebox, some young fellows singing loudly for someone to please please them.

Freddy came closer and getting up on tiptoes he put his hand next to my ear.

“I was wondering if you’re holding,” he said.


“Are you or your buddy holding.”

“Holding what?” I asked.

I looked around. I saw that Mr. Jones and Mr. Arbuthnot were watching us from across the bar.

“Weed,” said Freddy. “Tea. Gage. I can smell it on you, man.”

“Oh,” I said. “Oh, well, yes, I have a little.”

“I told you, Freddy,” said Ursula. “This cat’s no square.”

“Here, you can have what I’ve got,” I said, and I stuck my hand into the bermudas pocket in which I had stashed that fat, stubbed-out reefer of Josh’s.

“Wait, be cool, man,” said Freddy. “Not in here in front of everybody,” he said, smiling, but barely moving his lips.

I glanced around again, but the only people who seemed to be paying any attention to us were Mr. Jones and Mr. Arbuthnot over there.

Even from this distance, thirty feet or so, and in this smoky bar, I thought I detected hostility in the gazes of Jones and Abuthnot. Perhaps they belonged to a rival gang of ancient dwarves, and they resented the attention I was bestowing on Freddy and Ursula, their sworn blood enemies.

“Let’s go up to our pad,” said Ursula.

“Your pad?” I asked.

“We have digs upstairs,” said Freddy. “Comes with the gig. Come on up, it’s cool. Do you like absinthe?”


(I did recall one horrible experience with absinthe during the war, in Paris, but I won’t go into that here.)

“Yes, absinthe,” said Freddy.

“Absinthe,” I said.

“Are you a parrot, Mr. Schnabel?” asked Ursula.

“A parrot?” I repeated.

“Q.E.D.” she said.

“Come on,” said Freddy, putting his little hand on my arm. It felt as if a sparrow were resting on my forearm, a very old sparrow, a sparrow about two seconds away from keeling over and falling to the ground.

“Yes, we’re not getting any younger here,” said Ursula. “Let’s go upstairs.”

“But,” I said.

“Don’t be a but-inski,” she said. “Come on, let’s split."

(Continued here, and until we drop. Kindly refer to the right hand column of this page for an occasionally up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, absolutely free for a limited time only although donations will be accepted in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Pagan Baby Literacy Project.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 3: voix humaine

Our previous episode concluded with our hero, that raffish middle-aged rascal Buddy Best, mentioning the loathed man who has taken away Buddy’s wife Joan, a man Buddy refers to only as "the Ancient Mariner"...

(Go here to see the first chapter of this hard-hitting exposé of the tawdry private lives of Hollywood’s defiantly damned.)

The Mariner -- Buddy should have seen that one coming; and come to think of it, he had. This dude, with his beret and his salt-and-pepper ponytail, his goatee, his tinted granny glasses, his scarf and his suede elbow patches and his bare-wood beach house down by the bottom of Venice Beach. The jive motherfucker.

The jive-ass old acting-teacher motherfucker.

Hey, Buddy had been nothing but generous when it came to giving Joan parts in his cheesy movies. It wasn’t his fault if she couldn’t get other gigs. Let’s face it, she just wasn’t all that good, and all the acting classes in the world weren’t going to make her a whole lot better; but that didn’t stop her from taking classes, and so, enter the Ancient Mariner.

He had a real name of course, Stephen whatever, but to Buddy it had been The Ancient Mariner ever since that night Joan dragged him down to that showcase at the Mariner’s little theatre off South Venice Boulevard.

Joan was in the show, and so they had to get there early, but this was not a bad thing because it gave Buddy time to have half a doobie in the car and a Ketel One martini in a bar down the street beforehand. (Deirdre was supposed to have come too of course, but she had pleaded menstrual cramps and gotten out of it. Buddy went up to her room to see her before he and Joan left, and Deirdre admitted that although she was having her period she was faking the severity of the cramps. Buddy didn’t blame her.) He had wanted to prepare himself for what he figured would be little-theatre hell from the moment the curtain went up, if there had been a curtain, which there wasn’t, but amazingly the first piece of the evening wasn’t bad at all.

It started in complete darkness and all you could hear was this woman speaking in French. Now Buddy understood a little French, and he was the sort of opera buff who considered it sacrilege to sing operas in translation, but he was disposed to be annoyed anyway because this was not opera and this was not Paris; it was L.A., and people here had a tough enough time understanding English let alone French. Then the stage lights gradually came up, and things got better when he could see the woman speaking. Buddy hadn't looked at his program but he vaguely recalled the piece from his college French, something by Cocteau? Anyway, it was agonizing but short, just this pathetic French blonde talking on the phone in a throaty voice to the lying cheating son-of-a-bitch who had just dumped her. But the girl playing the part was good to look at. She wore a slip and old-fashioned sheer stockings and garters. She had an old-school body, rounded and pale and soft-looking, and when she leaned forward you could get a good look at her cleavage. Her yellow hair was a mess, her eye make-up was streaked all down her face, her lipstick was smeared. She was sexy as all hell. And she was good. When she cried you felt like she was crying for real, and you could see the tears glistening.

The piece ended, the lights dimmed out, and Buddy could hear women sniffling all around him. Even he had a couple of tears on his cheeks for the pathetic French babe on the phone. A good round of applause broke out, Buddy joined in, and his program slipped off his lap and down under the seat of the lady in front of him; he was damned if he was going to scrape around under there looking for it, but he made a mental note to check later for the French chick’s name.

The show went downhill from there. Next up came Joan’s piece, a scene from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, with Joan playing Maggie and some inarticulate gym rat doing Brick. Joan also got to wear a slip in this thing, and, yeah, technically Joan had a great body, the woman worked out like a fucking Olympic athlete, and her breasts looked great, as well they should have since Buddy had paid through the nose to have them overhauled a couple of times, but he preferred the friendlier-looking body of the blond Frenchwoman. Of course he wasn’t married to the French chick, which made all the difference in the world. Anyway, Joan was bad, the gym rat was worse.

Then a couple of tired old queens came on and did Vladimir and Estragon, and Buddy dozed off.

At the intermission he ducked out to the car and polished off the rest of the doobie.

The second half started off with more modern boredom, a scene from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but even with all the actors screaming their lungs out Buddy was able to get back to sleep, and only later did he realize -- and thank Christ -- that he’d slept through a scene from yet another enduring classic, Long Day’s Journey into Night.

What finally woke him up was a surprise attack of electronic noise, some horrible Stockhausen or imitation-Stockhausen bullshit, and then some sort of half-assed 1968-era light show. Then on comes this fuck in a Long John Silver outfit, shuffling out to center stage. The noise and the light show faded down but not out, and Buddy thought, Oh God now what in the fucking hell? And the clown on stage answered:

It is an ancient Mariner
And he stoppeth one of three...

And the hell if it wasn’t another masterpiece Buddy had had to read back in college, that bore-ass junkie Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, which this maniac proceeded to recite in what surely was its whole endless entirety, and in a fruity English accent. At one nightmarish point the Mariner went up on his lines, dropped back about ten stanzas, and recited them all over again. As far as Buddy could tell, no one else seemed to notice the repetition. (Which meant of course they weren’t really paying attention, they were simply accepting the torture the way people accepted so much torture in the name of artistic appreciation.) Certainly the idiot on stage didn’t seem to notice. He just plowed right on. And Buddy never did get back to sleep.

That was the last piece of the evening. The company came out for their curtain call, with the Ancient Mariner front and center. After the bows and some strained applause the Mariner said a few words, more than a few actually, and it finally dawned on Buddy that this madman must be the famous Stephen himself, Joan’s acting teacher. And as the house lights finally came up Buddy could only sigh with an albatross-shadowed relief, because he knew that his next and inescapable husbandly duty was to accompany Joan to the after-show party, at Stephen’s place, the Mariner’s place, “on the beach”.

(Continued here, unless that court order goes through. Please consult the right hand side of this page for a listing of all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House, a Larry Winchester Production.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 153: blue on blue

Previously in this Gold View Award©-winning memoir our author Arnold Schnabel found himself standing at the bar of the Pilot House (“Cape May’s ‘in-spot’ for the ‘in crowd’, featuring ‘The Sophisticated Seaside Airs of Freddy Ayres and Ursula’ seven nights a week!”) with two of his nemeses, the seemingly indefatigable senior citizens the Messrs Jones and Arbuthnot, on this very long Saturday night in August of 1963...

As I put the glass down I thought, Now why am I drinking this again? I still had half a mug of beer in front of me. Another beer would have been bad enough, but a Manhattan, and a rather large one at that? Oh, well, nothing to do but chalk it up to yet another of those occasional attacks of complete insanity that all too frequently break up the monotony of my usual semi-insanity.

“Wait a minute,” I suddenly said. “If you don’t mind my asking, how do you two gentlemen know each other?”

“Mr. Jones and I have known each other for many years, Mr. Schnabel,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Why shouldn’t we know each other?” said Mr. Jones.

“No reason,” I said, backed into a conversational and moral corner.

“Do you suspect us of some nefarious plot?” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“No,” I said, picking up my beer mug. “Not at all.”

“Is it outside the realm of your imagination that two of your acquaintances might be separately acquainted?” he asked.

“No, no,” I said.

“Jonesie here simply stopped by my rooms, in search of a sympathetic drinking companion.”

“Sure,” I said.

“And it was simply by chance that together we would find you here.”

“Just as we were talking about you,” said Mr. Jones.

“Recounting our separate acquaintances with you,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. "Our separate adventures with you."

“Although it may surprise you to learn that there is a whole universe out there that is quite oblivious of your very existence,” said Mr. Jones.

“Well,” I said, “I, uh --”

“Don’t think the world revolves around you, Arnold,” said Mr. Jones. “Believe me, it doesn’t.”

“I know that,” I said.

“Oh. Did you know then,” said Mr. Jones, “that this majestic orb in fact revolves around no other than me?”

I didn’t dignify this remark with a response. Instead I took a drink of beer, finishing the mug.

“Are you here alone then, Mr. Schnabel?” asked Mr. Arbuthnot, with a detective’s glance at Josh’s only partially-drunk mug of beer and half-empty whiskey glass.

“No,” I said. “I’m here with a, uh, friend. He’s in the men’s room.”

I pushed my empty mug away. To my dismay the bartender suddenly materialized from nowhere, scooping the mug away with one hand and with his other hand immediately replacing it with a fresh chilled one brimful with foamy beer. And I still had most of my Manhattan left.

“What’d he do, your friend, get lost?” asked Mr. Jones. “Fall in the toilet?”

It was true, Josh had been gone for some little while.

“If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen,” I said. “I have to go to the men’s room myself.”

“Let us know how it all comes out,” said Mr. Jones.

“We’ll order another round of Manhattans,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “One for your mysterious friend, too.”

“No, no more for my friend and me, please,” I said.

“Just go pee, Arnold,” said Arbuthnot.

“All right, but really, don’t order me or my friend any more drinks.”

“Sure,” he said. “Go. Go.”

So I left them, and went down to the turn of the bar. Freddy was singing “Blue on Blue” now, while Ursula held off on the saxophone, running her fingers idly on the keys and looking down, nodding her head to the beat. Normally I might have put a dollar or so in Freddy’s tip jar, but since Josh had given him a twenty I figured that was plenty from the both of us.

I went past the stage and down the little hall to the men’s room on the right.

As soon as I entered I heard the unmistakable sound of a man retching, horribly.

Fortunately no one else was in there right now.

There are only two urinals in the Pilot House men’s room, and two stalls. I walked over, and there was Josh, kneeling in one stall, the door not even closed all the way, his head over the toilet.

“Josh?” I said, pushing the door open as far as I could against the soles of his sandals.

“Oh, Christ, Arnold,” he said. “I’ve never been so sick.”

He threw up again. I waited.

“Why did you let me drink so much?” he asked, without turning.

“I thought you could handle it,” I said.

“Well, I can’t.”

“Also I didn’t think I’d be able to stop you.”

He threw up again, but just a little bit. His shirt was soaked with sweat, sticking to his skin. I could see his back muscles, contorting.

“You’re probably right,” he said, still leaning over the toilet. “Nobody to blame but myself.”

“Did you eat tonight?” I asked.

“Eat? No. I don’t have to eat.”

“You should always eat before you drink,” I said.

He spat into the toilet.

“Yeah, I’ll remember that,” he said.

“Well, can I -- uh -- help you, Josh?”

“How could you possibly help me, Arnold? Oh, Christ --”

He gagged, dry-heaving.

I waited a minute, then said, “Well, do you, uh, want me to wait in here, or --”

“No, please, Arnold. I’ll be fine. Just wait at the bar, okay? I think I’m almost finished. Oh, fuck --”

He gagged again.

I went over to the urinals. I figured as long as I was here, I might as well void my bladder. I unzipped.

“Arnold,” called Josh, from in the stall, “just go, okay? Wait out in the bar. Seriously.”

“Well, all right,” I said.

I zipped up, even though I actually did have to go again.

I left the men’s room to Josh, and went out into that little corridor, which is made up to look like a passageway in some fancy yacht. I wondered if passageways in fancy yachts were made up to look like the hallways of bars?

And then I stopped for just a moment before going out into the bar again, because I just then realized that the men’s room had not smelled badly, even right outside the stall that Josh had been vomiting in. If anything the odor in there had been pleasant, like the smell of my aunts’ garden on a fine morning.

But then I continued on my way.

Nothing surprised me any more.

(Continued here, and even up to the point of exhaustion and then one step beyond. Please look to the right hand side of this page for a conceivably up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Billy Zane from Buddy Best Productions.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 2: Deirdre

In our previous episode we left our hero Buddy Best (director of Smith & Wesson & Me, Blunt Force Trauma, and Escape From Death Island among other classics) bonding in Anchor Steam beer and Puccini with his son Philip in Buddy’s only slightly decrepit house on Ivar Avenue, Hollywood, California...

Enter Buddy's fifteen-year-old (or is she sixteen, Buddy's not quite sure) stepdaughter...

“Hi, drunks.”

It was Deirdre, in her St. Vlad’s uniform.

“Hey, Deird,” said Philip.

“Hi, jerk,” said Deirdre in her faux-perky teen-movie way.

“Give me a kiss.”

“No, you’re gross. Did you guys save me any pizza?”

“I got some warming in the oven,” said Buddy.

“You guys are such alcys. It’s what, seven-thirty? And you’re trashed.”

“Getting there,” said Buddy. “Not there yet."

“Long way from there,” said Philip.

Deirdre came back in from the kitchen with a slice of pizza on a plate, a folded paper towel, and a glass of what could only be Diet Coke. They were into Act IV of Bohème by now. She plunked down on the couch and took a big bite of pizza.

“So,” she said, to Philip, “come to visit Bleak House?”

“Come to live here, baby.”

She halted her chewing. Explanations forthcame.


A little later they were watching American Movie on DVD when Deirdre said, “Oh, Uncle Buddy -- {Joan had introduced him to the three-year-old Deirdre as “Uncle Buddy”, and Uncle Buddy he had remained ever since} -- now that you’re I hope sufficiently wasted --”

She reached down, got her backpack off the floor and rummaged in it. She’d changed into shorts and a t-shirt, she was all thin arms and legs. She got out an envelope, and flipped it to Philip, who was sitting at the other end of the sofa.

“What am I, your butler?” said Philip.

“You’re closer, dude.”

“Bitch,” said Philip, but he got up and handed the note to Buddy.

“What is this?” said Buddy.

“Note from Mother Mathilde,” said Deirdre. “Since Mom’s not around I guess you get to deal with it.”

She had pulled Ming on to her lap and she waggled her tongue at the cat.

Buddy switched on the lamp, took off his glasses, which he had put on to watch the movie, and read the note. Then he put his glasses back on again and looked at Deirdre.

“So what’d you do anyway?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Come on, give me a break, don’t make me go in there cold.”

“I got caught making out.”

“Making out? With another girl?”

“It’s an all-girls school, Uncle Buddy.”

“Stupid question, okay.”

“Our little dyke,” said Philip.

“Faggot. Freeloader.”

“All right,” said Buddy, “let’s watch the damn movie.”

They watched the movie for a while.

“So how far did this making out go?” said Philip.

“Wouldn’t you like to know, queer-bait.”

A little bit later Buddy said, “So who was it you made out with?”

“Trish Alvarado.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Buddy was pretty sure he knew which one Trish was, and if she was the one he thought she was then Trish was a hottie all right.

“Is she hot?” asked Philip.

Deirdre got up and grabbed her Diet Coke and her backpack and went off up the stairs. Ming jumped off the sofa and followed her.

“She’s gotten kinda hot,” said Philip. “Except for her braces. Or maybe especially because of her braces.”

“All right, asshole, she’s your fucking sister practically, so don’t be so fucking --” they heard her bedroom door slam shut -- “fucking --”

"Hey, Dad, give me some credit, dude. Anyway, she’s a dyke.”

“Ah, I don’t know about that, Phil.”

“Dad, has she ever had a boyfriend?”

“Well, no -- not that I know of --”

“I rest my case.”

“She’s only fucking fifteen, sixteen --”

“Dad, kids today have boyfriends and girlfriends at fucking twelve. You know how old I was when I lost my virginity? Or, no, hey, ya know how old Liz was?”

Liz was Buddy’s other offspring, aged what, twenty-four?

“No,” said Buddy, “and no, and, no, I don’t fucking want to know.”

“She’s a dyke.”

“Who, Liz?”

“No, not fucking Liz: Deirdre.”

“Oh. Well, fuck it, maybe she is. Who gives a shit?”

“Not me.”

“Okay then. She’s probably better off anyway. I mean when you look at the nincompoops Liz has hooked up with --”

“Word up,” said Philip. “You talk to her lately?” Adding helpfully, “Liz.”

“Um, uh, two weeks ago? Three?”

“How’d she sound?”

“She sounded --”

“She still in school?”

“Oh yeah. But --”


“She wanted to borrow some money to take this weekend retreat with this Deep -- Deepok -- Chopchop -- Deepsix --”


“Chokra? Fucking Indian --”

“Deepak Chopra?”

“That’s him.”

“Oh, fuck that.”

“Right,” said Buddy. “I mean, first it’s your mother with the fucking Buddhism; then it’s fucking Joan with this Tony Roberts guy’s Personal Bullshit seminar --”

“Tony Robbins, he’s cool, love his tan.”

“Right -- now it’s Elizabeth with this Tupac Shakur --”

“Deepak Chopra.”


“So you send her the dough?”

“Fuck no. I told her she should be concentrating on her goddam course work and not taking some jive-ass mystico-spiritual self-help load of --”

“Yeah, fuck that shit.”

“All the fucking dough I laid out for that Betty Ford clipjoint? And now she’s living with this fucking Keith guy --”

“You mean the Craig guy --”

“Right -- another fucking drug addict, alcoholic, loser --”

“What else is new? Chicks dig losers. She does, anyway --”

“Yeah, but that’s the trouble, with these rehab joints and these meetings,” said Buddy, getting up -- “you want another beer by the way?”

“Yo,” said Philip. “You want me to pause the movie?”

“Don’t bother.”

Buddy headed off into the kitchen and Philip called after him:

“What’s the trouble?”

“What?” yelled Buddy.

“What’s the trouble with the rehabs and meetings,” yelled Philip.

Buddy yelled out, louder, “All they meet are other fucking junkies and alcoholics.

“Look who’s talking,” said Philip.

“Hey, I bring home the bacon, pal.”

You guys are the alcoholics!” This was Deirdre, yelling down from upstairs, going to or from the bathroom or to or from Buddy’s room in search of his pot stash.

Buddy came back in with two more Anchors and gave one to Philip.

“Al-co-hol-ics!” Deirdre again.

“Thanks, Dad. So -- I guess Liz doesn’t know about you and --”

“Uh, no, I guess not. I should call her.”

“Yeah, me too,” said Philip. “What about Mom. You talk to her lately?”

“Nah, it’s too hard to get through to her up there.” This was the vegan ashram up in the High Sierras where Philip’s and Liz’s mom Madge, now known as Shakira, lived with her husband, Om, and their son, Mukund. “And she hasn’t called me,” said Buddy. “What about you?”

“Nah, not lately. I should call her.”

“Yeah. Tell her I say hi,” said Buddy.

“Okay. So she doesn’t know about Joan either.”

“Nah. Fuck it. That’s just, that’s just -- look, look at these fucking idiots --”

Buddy was referring to the movie they had on. Being good Americans they were watching and following the movie as they talked.

“Yeah. What nimrods,” said Philip. “So what is it that’s just something?”


“What you were going to say, before the nimrods.”

“Oh, right. That’s just -- one of the toughest things about this whole load of shit is just -- just having to tell everyone about it. It’s very fucking --”


“Yes. Oh. Shit.”


“I just remembered that you’re about to go through the same shit.”

“Thanks for reminding me, Dad.”

“You’re welcome. You want my advice?”


“If people ask how things are going, just say, ‘Fine.’”


“Fuck ‘em.”

“Okay. So -- how are things going, Dad?”

“Fuck you.”

“No, really.”

“Ah, shut the fuck up, Phil. Watch the movie.”


They watched the movie. And then Philip said, “I really hate Cynthia.”

A couple of minutes later Buddy spoke up.

“That’s the fucked-up thing --”


“You go to all the trouble of marrying a chick and then you just wind up hating them.” Three seconds later he added: “And vice versa.”

“Uh huh. Um --”

Instead of completing a sentence Philip stared at the TV.

“Philip, let me tell you about love, okay?”

“Oh, great.”

“Okay. Now, I made the same exact mistake you did with, uh, whosis --”


“Right. Same mistake I made with Joan, that you did. Not so much your mom --”

Buddy paused, musing on his profundity while watching the movie. He was a little fucked up on the beer. Plus he hadn’t been sleeping well at all. And he’d been working hard. And he had been drinking too much and smoking too much pot for eight or ten days now. And his wife had left him for one of the biggest assholes he had ever met.

“What’s your point, Dad?”

“My point --”

“Something about a mistake. Handed down through generations.”

“Ah, yes. Mistake being I married someone while I was hot ‘n’ heavy with ‘em. Big mistake, and only afterwards did I realize what a fuckin’, fuckin’ --”

“Uh-huh --”

“Okay, you wanta hear Buddy Best’s Rule #1 of Marriage?”

“I think I’m going to.”

“Never marry someone you’re sexually attracted to.”

“O-kay --”

“I mean, you probably wouldn’t even think about marrying someone you were never attracted to, but the thing is, wait -- wait until you’re not attracted any more -- and that day will come, brother --”

“Tell me about it --”

“It will come. And then, if you still want to marry them, knock yourself the fuck out.”

“Good rule, Dad.”

A minute later:

“Um, you and Joan, Dad -- I guess I can say it now --”

“Phil --”


“Do me a favor.”


“Don’t say it.”


They watched the movie. It was a good movie about some idiot in Wisconsin trying to make a bad movie. Except he thought he was trying to make a good movie.

“But, Dad, can I just say something about Cynthia?”

Bud picked up the remote and pressed pause.

“Phil, can I be absolutely honest with you?”


“Right. I mean, okay. Some time. But -- not now. All right?”

“Okay. Cool.”


“But one little question,” said Philip.

“Fire away.”

“You got any pot?”

“Later, after Deirdre crashes.”

“She’s probably up there smoking weed herself right now.”


“We could go out by the pool.”

“All right.”

Buddy had the better part of a nice fat one in his shirt pocket. They left the movie on pause and went out back and sat in the deck chairs by the pool in the dark.

Philip flicked his Zippo, and the twinkling hills looked down upon them as father and son passed the joint back and forth. The air hummed softly with the sound or the sounds of the freeway, and the water in the pool looked like chocolate Jell-O, chocolate Jell-O sprinkled with leaves that had fallen in from the backyard flora -- the bougainvillea hedge, the eucalyptus, the palm tree, Joan’s roses and snapdragons, her mums and tiger lilies, her fucking veggie garden.

Upstairs in her darkened room Deirdre leaned on her window sill, smoking a joint she’d rolled from Buddy’s stash and spying down on Philip and Buddy. She could hear them clearly when they started talking again.

“What was this dude’s name?” said Philip.

“What dude?”

“The dude that Joan ran off with.”

“Oh, him. The Mariner.”

“The Mariner?”

“The Ancient Mariner.”


(Who is the Ancient Mariner? Why is Buddy so ill-disposed toward him? Keep your shirt on. Go here to find out. Please refer to the right hand side of this page for a complete listing of all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy's House. A Sheldon Leonard Production.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 152: oh, no...

Our previous episode found our hero-memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his friend and alleged savior “Josh” in yet another bar, Cape May’s sophisticated Pilot House (“Featuring ‘A Stroll Down Tin Pan Alley with Feddy Ayres and Ursula’, seven nights a week!”).

But even the great men have to go sometimes, and so Josh has gone off to the men’s room, leaving Arnold standing alone at the crowded bar on this warm night in August of 1963...

(Newcomers may click here to go to the beginning of this Gold View™ Award-winning masterpiece.)

I turned towards the bar and lifted my beer. I had thought yesterday was a long day, but this one was really starting to take the cake. I gulped some beer, put the mug down. When it was empty I would go home, no matter what Josh said. I had to meet Larry again tomorrow morning around 10:30, to work on our screenplay, but since tomorrow was Sunday I would have to get up even earlier than otherwise in order to go to the nine o’clock mass first.

But then I thought, Wait, I’m standing here in a bar with Jesus himself, why am I worrying about going to Sunday mass? Not to mention that since my last encounter with Elektra I was technically in a state of mortal sin anyway. But it’s hard to break these habits of a lifetime, no matter now absurd they may be. Hard but not impossible. Had I not successfully and at long last broken the habit of celibacy?

When Josh got back from the men’s room I would ask him about this Sunday mass business. If it turned out that I really was under no obligation to go to mass, then that would mean I could sleep an extra hour. In fact I might even just have another beer after my current one, because now I felt wide awake anyway.

Suddenly I became aware that two beings were standing right behind me; however, when I looked into the mirror in front of me across the bar I could see no one there.

Great, I thought, was I now to be hounded by invisible creatures, as if visible ones didn’t give me enough grief already? I took a breath, squared my shoulders and told myself that I would brook no nonsense from these ghosts or spirits, whatever they were, be they from heaven or hell or elsewhere. And if it turned out I couldn’t handle them by myself, well, then I would just have to hope that Josh made it back from the men’s room in time to rescue me.

I turned around, and discovered that the reason I hadn’t seen anyone in the mirror was that no one was standing behind me but Mr. Arbuthnot and Mr. Jones, neither of whom was barely more than five feet tall.

“Fancy finding you here, Mr. Schnabel,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“My very good friend,” said Mr. Jones, his trim little body swaying in a gentle circular movement, while his right hand, holding a lit cigarette, traced circles in the opposite direction.

“So you have a taste for the tipple,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Speaking of which, I’ll have a Manhattan,” said Mr. Jones.

“Mr. Jones,” I said. “Do you really think you should be drinking any more tonight?”

“It’s either that or writhe miserably on my narrow bed all night, wrestling with the demons of a misspent life.”

“Oh,” I said. When you looked at it that way, he did have a point.

“Summon that barman’s attention, will you, Mr. Schnabel?” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “He acts as if we don’t exist. Tell him we want Manhattans here.”

I turned, and, miraculously, the bartender was right there. Apparently even being merely Josh’s companion held a certain credence in the bars of the world.

“May I help you, sir?”

“Two Manhattans, please,” I said.

“Right away, sir,” he said and off he went towards the drink-making station, but then Mr. Jones shouted out in his piping little voice, “Make that three Manhattans!”

“Yes, sir,” said the bartender and he continued on his way before I could tell him No, please, just two Manhattans.

The two small old men squeezed in next to me on either side. They had both been wearing straw hats, and now they doffed them, laying them down on the bar. Without their hats they looked even smaller, with their shiny little bald heads barely above the level of the bar top.

“So where’s your lady friend, Arnold?” said Mr. Arbuthnot, taking out his little Meerschaum. “If I may call you Arnold.”

“She’s asleep,” I said.

“He’s got a lady friend?” said Mr. Jones.

“Oh, yes,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. “A charming young lady of the Israelite tribe.”

He produced a leather pouch and began filling his pipe.

“Some of the best lays I ever had were Jewish dolls,” said Mr. Jones.

“And when was the last time you had a lay, Mr. Jones?” asked Mr. Arbuthnot. “Nineteen twenty-two?”

“In point of fact it was as recent as nineteen hundred and forty-five,” said Mr. Jones. “I’ll tell you, the war years were good ones for getting laid, what with all the young men overseas.”

“I well remember,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, his watery eyes gleaming behind his spectacles. ”Those were good times.” Then his face grew sad. “However, the war ended, the men came back.”

He grabbed a book of Pilot House matches from a little bowl, and tore off a match.

“It was all downhill from then on,” said Mr. Jones.

“Old age,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, lighting his pipe with tiny little puffs, “wrapping itself round the walking carcass like an insatiable python.”

“What a revolting image,” said Mr. Jones.

“No more so than the reality it illustrates,” said Mr. Arbuthnot. He tossed his match to the floor.

“True enough, sir!” said Mr. Jones.

“Would you gentlemen prefer to stand next to each other?” I said, stepping back from the bar.

“Of course not, my friend,” said Mr. Jones, and his little hand reached up and grabbed my polo shirt sleeve. “Belly up to the bar, Arnold! That is your name, isn’t it?”

“Three Manhattans,” said the bartender, laying three chilled empty cocktail glasses on the bar with one hand and raising high in the other a large shiny metal cocktail shaker.

“Oh, no, just two please,” I said.

“He’s already made three,” said Mr. Jones. “Pour away, barkeep, don’t listen to this whippersnapper.”

“Yes, sir,” said the bartender, and he poured out three large Manhattans. “Cherries, gentlemen?”

“No cherries,” said Mr. Jones. “They take up precious space in the glass.”

“No cherries,” said the bartender, placing a drink before each of us in succession.

“How much?” I said, sighing deeply for the nine-hundredth time that day.

“I’ll put it on your tab, sir,” he said, smiling as if knowingly.

“Ah,” said Mr. Jones, taking up his cocktail. “It’s past midnight, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said, glancing at my watch. “In fact it’s --”

“First drink of the day then!” said Mr. Jones, raising his glass high -- well, high for him. “First one of the day,” he repeated, “and I hope to goddam hell it’s not the last!”

“You’d better hope that the day is not your last,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, also raising his glass.

“Oh would that this day were my last,” said Mr. Jones. “I should like nothing better than to drop dead, preferably whilst doing exactly what I’m doing now.”

“Talking twaddle?” asked Mr. Arbuthnot.

“No,” said Mr. Jones. “This.”

And he put the glass to his ancient lips and drank.

“Hear, hear!” said Mr. Arbuthnot, and he drank from his glass as well.

Then he looked up at me and gave me an elbow in the side.

“Drink, Arnold!”

I raised up my Manhattan and drank.

(Continued here, and until we drop. Kindly go to the right hand side of this page to find what might on certain days be a complete listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. “There’s nothing I like better than to get really stoned and then try to read some Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom)

Monday, July 13, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 1: father and son

Today we are proud to present for your delectation our new serial, a scathing exposé of the dank underbelly of Hollywood as well as a charming tale of romantic and familial love. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is the cautionary tale of one Mr. Buddy Best: Hollywood film-maker, husband, father, ladies’ man, opera enthusiast and connoisseur of fine beverages...

“Hey, what up, Dad.”

“Hey, what up.”

This was Buddy’s son, Philip. What was up was Buddy was drinking a beer and thinking pizza and listening to La Bohème.

“Dad, I’m leaving Cynthia.”

What Buddy was thinking was “About fucking time,” but what he said was:


“Just ‘oh’?”

“Okay,‘Oh, that’s too bad, Phil.’”

“No it’s not. It’s good.”

Buddy picked up the remote and lowered the volume on the CD player.

“She’s a C-U-Next-Tuesday, Dad.”

“A what?”

“A c-word.”

“Oh, a c-word.”

“Royal. A royal c-word,” said Philip.


“Just uh-huh?”

“Well, all right, so I agree with you.”



“How come the hell you never told me this?”

Buddy took a beat here.



“Someday maybe you’ll have a son.”

“God forbid.”

“Yeah, God forbid, but you know, someday you might knock some trollop up and have a son, and if you do, then some day this son may have a wife who is a total, uh, c-word. And then you will find out how easy it is to tell your son his wife is a c-word.”

“You said she was a total c-word, Dad.”

“I stand by that.”

“Speaking of, you heard from Joan?”

“Well, couple days ago she called to say she was going to Brittany with this dude --”


“Yeah,” said Buddy. “They’re off on a romantic interlude.”

“Fuckin’ hell.” Joan was Buddy’s wife, but not Philip’s mother; Joan had left Buddy about a week-and-a-half ago, for another man, a boring man, an asshole -- “Where is Brittany anyway?” asked Philip.

“France,” said Buddy. “It’s like the New Jersey of France.”

“She take Deirdre?”

“No, Deirdre’s still here.”

“Oh. That’s weird,” said Philip. “But cool.”


Deirdre was Joan’s daughter, Buddy’s stepdaughter, she was fourteen, or was it fifteen --

“So, but, like, is Joan gonna take her when she gets back,
or --”

“Oh, I’m sure she will.”

“Oh,” said Philip.


“That’s --”

“Yeah,” said Buddy.

Philip was -- how the fuck old was he now? Buddy started to do the math. Okay, he -- Buddy -- was (fuck) fifty-two; he had knocked up Madge (his first wife) when he was twenty-four, so that made Phil about --

“Um, listen, Dad, I don’t want to impose, but --”


“Um, I was wondering if I could, like, uh --”


“-- um, be like a real loser and ask you if I could, uh --”

“Move back in?”


“Sure, come on over. Glad to have you.”

“For real? I wouldn’t be like imposing?”

“Not like imposing at all. Where are you?”

“Hollywood and Vine, daddy-o. Just passed the lovely and historic Pantages Theatre, dude, and I can almost smell the familial manse.”*

(Buddy’s house was on North Ivar above Yucca. It was a Mission/Tudor in Belgian brick, and had been built for the comedian Joe E. Brown in 1931. Right down the block was the Parva Sed Apta, where Nathanael West supposedly had written The Day of the Locust, which Buddy intended someday to get around to reading.)

“Yeah, right,” said Buddy. “Listen, pick up some beer on the way. Good beer.”

Buddy sat there and considered tidying up a bit, but fuck it. Philip was a world-class slob from way back. He wouldn’t even notice.


“Hey, turns out I wasn’t kidding about smelling the familial manse. What the fuck, Dad, you hitting the skids or what?”

Okay, so he noticed.

“Well, y’know, Phil, it’s not so much the place is messy, it’s just that Joan kept it so clean. You know.”

“I know you’re hitting the fucking skids. She’s only been gone, what, a week?”

“It’s been more than a week. I think.”

“Fuck it,” said Philip, “let’s have a beer. Oh, you’ve got one. I’ll have a beer.”

“I’ll have another one.”

“Fucking drunk. What you got to eat?”

“My good friend Mama Maria is making us a pizza for delivery as we speak.”

“You my dog, dad.”

They settled down with their fresh Anchor Steams in the living room, Buddy in his rocker, Philip on the sofa, Rodolfo singing to Mimì, “E como vivo? Vivo --”

Philip lit up a cigarette, he had a nice little Zippo and he had that clicking thing down cold.

“So where’s Deirdre?”

“I don’t know. Ballet class? Violin lesson?”

“Cool.” Ming the cat came into the room, jumped on the coffee table and stared at Philip. He patted her head. “Hi, Ming. Hi, Ming. Hi, Mingle. And how’s she taking this, uh, you know --”

“How is Ming taking it?”

“No, Dad, not the cat. I meant Deirdre. How’s she --”

“Okay, I guess. I mean she hasn’t slit her wrists or anything.”

"That's a good sign,” said Philip. He started batting at Ming’s head with his hand and Ming batted back with her paw.

“So -- does Deirdre, I mean, does she --”

“Does she want to stay here?”


“I think so. I don’t think she wants to give up her room. Y’know?”

“Dig it. I can dig that. I’ve been there.”

Ming got tired of batting and curled up on the coffee table.

The music played, and then Philip said:

“So, ya getting any work done with all this shit?”

“Ah, yeah -- I’m finishing up a rewrite on this one script, and we’re in post on this last thing --”

“Any good?”

“This last one?”


“Yeah, I think it might be.”

“What’s it called?”

Triggerwoman III. No, what am I saying, Triggerwoman II. Two two two.”

Triggerwoman, that was like Selma Blair and Billy Zane, right?"

“Yeah, except we couldn’t get them for the sequel, so we went with Sally Fenster and Milt Dickens.”

“They’re good.”

“Yeah, and a hell of a lot cheaper than Selma and Billy would’ve been, that’s for sure.”

“You direct it?”

“Nah, Iggy did.”

“When you gonna direct again, mofo?”

“Hey, it’s already so much work writing the shit and producing -- why not let a young guy like Iggy learn the trade?”

“In other words you’re too lazy, dude.”

“Well, I’m definitely lazy, but then again, the kind of pictures we do, I mean, you don’t exactly have to be Ingmar Bergman, y’know?”


Buddy almost said that he would direct again one of these days, maybe, but he paused and then he didn’t, and then he couldn’t think of anything else to say, or at least anything he wanted to say.

“Cool,” said Philip.

More music. Waiting for Mama Maria’s.

“Also, Dad?”


“I got fired. From my job.”

Buddy nodded. He wasn’t quite sure what it was that Philip had been doing for a living, except that it had something to do with computers, he thought.

“So?” said Philip.

“So great.”


“I don’t know how you could do it, that nine-to-five shit.”

“But I got no money.”

“Oh, well, I guess that’s a problem.”


“So -- fuck it, find something, something, you know, you like to do --”

“Yeah, but the other problem is the market is saturated with like ten million fucking art school majors --”

“Yeah, right.”

“And I don’t know how to do anything else except that computer shit and I hate it.”


Buddy was getting bored with this; he had his own problems.

“Yo, Dad, let me work for you.”

“Doing what?”

“I don’t know. Anything. Y’know, I never wanted to take advantage of nepotism, but after five or six years out there in the work force I’m ready to.”

“I don’t blame you. I’ll see what I can do. Only thing is we’re not going into production again until -- August? I can probably get you something to do then, but --”

(The current date was April 2, 2003. There was a war going on in Iraq, but Buddy and Philip were both wrapped up in their own personal difficulties.)

“Cool,” said Philip. “What’s this next one gonna be.”

Return to Death Island, Part III.”


“Yeah, but like I say, that’s not for a while, so -- ah, fuck it, listen, listen to this --”

It was Kiri te Kanawa, singing, “Si. Mi chiamano Mimì.

And the both of them shut up for a while.


(Is Buddy depressed because his wife left him, or is he merely humiliated because of who she left him for? Where is Deirdre? Where is the pizza? All these questions will perhaps be answered in our next installment, unless our outraged sponsors pull the plug.)