Tuesday, September 29, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 166: mysteries

The lobby of the Chalfonte Hotel, circa 1963

Let us rejoin our intrepid memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his inebriated and deific friend “Josh”, as they ascend the wooden steps to the stately Chalfonte Hotel, in the only slightly shopworn resort of Cape May, NJ, late on a Saturday night in August in that faraway land called 1963...

(Please click here to go to the previous chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning multi-volume masterpiece. Newcomers, or those old-timers who wish to re-live the good times, may go here for the very first chapter.)

We walked across the porch, or Josh walked, I limped, Josh pulled open the screen door and we entered the lobby.

No one was about, no one at the desk, but we could hear some faint voices down to the left of the hall, from the King Edward Room, although we couldn’t see into it from here.

In the light of the lobby I got a good look at Josh as he turned and headed toward the lounge.

“Hey, Josh, wait up a minute.”

“What’s up? Come on, we’ll miss last call.”

“Josh, wait, look at us.”

There was a full-length pier-glass on the front wall. I gently pulled Josh over to it, and I stood there next to him.

There was he, with tar-black stains on the knees of his khakis and the elbows of his wrinkled Oxford shirt. And there also was I, both bare knees scraped, and with a trail of dirty-looking blood painted down one of my shins and into my sockless Keds. I watched myself as I raised the underside of my right arm so Josh could see the long bloody scrape there, and then I held out my left hand with its own scrape and purple bruise.

“Okay,” said Josh, looking at us, and smiling. “I know I look bad, but you look terrible, Arnold.”

“I know,” I said, and I turned to face the real him and not his image. “We can’t walk in there looking like this, Josh. They’ll throw us out.”

“Well, you they would throw out, definitely. I suppose those scrapes hurt, don’t they?”

“Uh, yes, a little.”

“Well, twice in one night with you, then. Here we go.”

He made to crouch in front of me, but I grabbed him by the arm and pulled him up.

“Josh, not in here.”

“Oh, right, I guess it would look a little suspicious to anyone just strolling in. Well, okay then, let’s just find a more private spot.” He looked around, taking out his cigarettes. “Oh, I know, the dining room, the so-called, what, Magnolia Room -- come on.”

A mere dozen or so quick strides and limps, and we were in the dining room; the electric lights were all turned off, but the white tablecloths glowed and the upturned glasses and the silverware sparkled and gleamed in the pale light spilling in through the tall windows from the street lamps outside on Sewell Street.

Josh pulled a chair out from the nearest table, turned it around and sat down. He popped a cigarette up from the pack in his hand, and, after he’d lit it, he said, “All right, let’s try this again. Stand in front of me.”

I did so.

“Let’s do the knees first,” he said.

Putting his cigarette in his mouth he laid his hands with outstretched fingers lightly on my knees.

After ten or fifteen seconds he pulled his hands back, took the cigarette out of his mouth and said, “That’s funny, the scrapes should be disappearing.”

I bent forward and looked down in the dimness. The scrapes were still there all right.

“Does it still hurt?” he asked.

“Well --”

“Be frank now.”

“Yeah, it still hurts,” I said.

“Hmmm. Okay. Let’s give it another shot.”

First he reached around behind him and grabbed an ashtray, brought it to the edge of the table and put his cigarette in it. Turning forward, he took a breath, then rubbed the palms of his hands together rapidly for half a minute or so. Then, quickly, he put his hands out again and laid them my knees, but much more firmly this time.

“Ouch,” I said.

“Sorry,” he said. “Just bear with me here. Do you feel anything?”

“Yes,” I said. “Pain.”

“Nothing like an energy wave -- you know -- the life force, that sort of thing?”

“Well, maybe a little. But mostly just pain.”

“Okay. Hold still just a little longer.”

I waited. I really wanted a cigarette now. And God only knew what would happen if someone walked by the dining room and took a look inside. But then I thought, Wait, Josh is the son of God. Which means he more or less is God, since God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost -- or Spirit rather -- were one God indivisible, or at least so I had been taught, although I won’t pretend to say that I had ever even begun to understand the ins and outs of this odd doctrine. So, what I should do, I should just do what the priests always told us to do, and leave myself in his -- or His -- hands. But I doubt if the priests ever meant that phrase so literally.

Finally Josh pulled his hands away.

“Hmmm,” he said. “This is really bizarre. Scrapes still there. Does it still hurt?”

“Well, it’s a little better,” I said.

And it might have been a very little better. But not very much better.

He reached over to the table, got a napkin, and wiped his hands, which had got my blood and dirt on them.

“Well, there you go,” he said. He took his cigarette out of the ashtray. “Not only am I not omniscient, but I’m obviously not so very all powerful, either.”

He took a drag of his cigarette.

“You’re tired,” I said.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Probably bringing Mr. Arbuthnot back from the dead took a lot out of you.”

“You know, Arnold, you’re probably right. That on top of all the bourbon I drank.”

“And the reefer, too, maybe,” I ventured.

“No, I don’t think it’s the reefer,” he said. “If anything the reefer should help when it comes to miracles.”

“Well, anyway, it’s okay,” I said. “These scrapes will heal. They’re nothing serious. God knows I’ve fallen in the street loads of times before, and I’m still here to talk about it.”

“Yeah, true. Oh well --”

He heaved himself up from the chair, looked around. There was a small white vase in the center of the table with a stem of pink-hued gladiolus in it; Josh picked up the vase, spilled some water out of it onto the napkin he had just wiped his hands with, then he handed me the napkin.

“Here you go, Arnold, just get the blood off with this. I gather you’d be more comfortable doing it yourself.”

“That’s true,” I said. “Thank you.”

I gingerly wiped off my knees, my calf, my arm, my hand.

“Great, looks worlds better,” said Josh.

Now I didn’t know what to do with the napkin.

“Okay, let’s get that drink now,” he said. “And a sandwich for you. Or pie.”

We went back out into the lobby. I was still carrying the blood-stained napkin, and Josh noticed this.

“Here, give me that.”

I gave it to him, he took it between his thumb and index finger, looked around again, then went over to the reception desk. I was afraid he was going to stick it in a drawer or something, but he found a waste-paper basket behind it and dropped it into that.

“It’ll be one of life’s little mysteries for the desk clerk tomorrow,” he said. “Okay, let’s go.”

(Continued here, because we must. Kindly look to the right hand column of this page to find what quite often is an up-to-date listing of links to all other faithfully transcribed chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, soon to be a major motion picture starring Jeremy Irons as Arnold and Brad Pitt as “Josh”; a J. Arthur Rank Production, written and directed by Larry Winchester.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 16: home

Let us rejoin our raffish hero Buddy Best, as he brings his troubled daughter Liz back from rainy and cold Milwaukee to sunny Los Angeles...

(Click here to go our previous chapter, or here to go to the beginning of our Hollywood soap opera. Based on an untrue story.)

When they got into LAX Debbie Greenberg was waiting for them.

“Debbie, baby, what are you doing here?”

“What’s it look like I’m doing, I’m picking you guys up.”

“Oh, thanks, but -- “

Debbie turned to Liz.

“How are you, sweety?”

“I’m -- tired.”

Liz had slept about twelve hours the night before, and she’d slept in the cab to the airport. She’d fallen asleep again in the Milwaukee airport and she’d slept through the flight. Buddy had hardly talked to her at all. Last night she’d been drunk and incoherent, and today she had been hungover and untalkative or asleep.

“Are you guys hungry?”

Yeah, Buddy was hungry; he’d only had peanuts on the plane (and not a single goddam drink, even during his customary over-the-Rockies panic attack), but he waited for Liz, and anyway the question was really directed at Liz.

“I -- yeah, I am, Debbie.”

“Good, what do you want to eat, sweetheart?”

“I want -- a Pink’s hotdog?”

“No, you’ve got to have something nutritious, Liz. Look at you, you’re a twig.”

“No I’m not --”

“Look, don’t start. Now what do you want to eat?”

“Can I have -- a hot pastrami?”

“Sure you can, baby. All right, let’s blow this dump.”

Despite the fucked-up circumstances Buddy felt full of the joy of being safely alive back on the ground and, yes, back in L.A. Despite all its ugliness and tackiness this town was his home...

And in the car Liz fell promptly asleep again, curled up in the back seat.

“What do you think, Deb, should we just take her home?”

“Nah, let’s get some food in her.”

They were driving in Debbie’s vintage 1960-something Chevy convertible, Debbie cruising along through the rush-hour traffic like a gangster’s moll with a kerchief on her head and her sunglasses on and a cigarette in her hand.

“Y’know, Deb, you really didn’t have to --”

“Oh, shut up, Buddy. Marlene wanted to come but I had work for her to do at the office.”

“Oh, that was nice of her --”

“She’s hot for you.”

“Aren’t all women?”

“Hey, you’re a free man now, Best. Watch the babes come crawling out of the woodwork.”

“Yeah, I’ll have to stop at the drug store and pick up some chick repellant.”

But then maybe Debbie had a point there. Like what about that woman in the bar last night, who had given him her lawyer-card, which admittedly he had thrown away, but still -- and what about Marlene? She was fine looking --

“You’re thinking about Marlene, aren’t you, Best?”

“No, no, not at all, uh, just thinking about where we should go to, uh, eat --”

“Yeah, sure.”

“No, really --”

“Okay, how about Canter’s?”

“Canter’s is cool,” said Buddy.

They talked business for a bit, and now Buddy was looking at Debbie. Okay, how old was Debbie? Late thirties? Forty? He sure wasn’t going to ask. But she did have a bod, another one of these workout queens -- and what was up with this skirt action? Her skirt was really short. And tight. As her foot worked the brake and the accelerator you could see the muscles moving in her thigh and calf. And she was wearing this sleeveless top that showed off her shoulders and her arms. And her breasts. Okay, were they real? Not that Buddy gave too much of a damn if they were or not.


While Debbie got Liz into bed in her old room -- she’d fallen asleep again on the way back from Canter’s -- Buddy sat in the kitchen with a bourbon on the rocks and made some phone calls. Philip and Deirdre were both out. Buddy finished his calls and sat there at the kitchen table. Debbie came in.

“She had a little crying jag, but she’s asleep now,” she said.

“Cool.” There was a wet blotch on Debbie’s top, over her right breast; it must have been from Liz’s tears. “You want a drink, Deb?”

“Yeah, I could use one now, thanks.”

Debbie wanted wine, so Buddy opened up a bottle of Montrachet for her and they took their drinks out back. They sat in the deck chairs with the sun going down behind them on the other side of the house, and they stared at the pool, which had now assumed a marbled greenish-brown color under its coating of leaves and twigs and dead bugs. It gave off a slightly swampy odor, mingled with the smell of the eucalyptus and of the overripe garden.

"So Buddy," said Debbie, "are you trying to grow something in this pool, like a science project? And what’s with the garden over there? You gonna shoot a miniature Tarzan movie?”

“That’s an idea.”

"And are you aware that your lovely old home looks like a frat house on a Sunday morning? Don't you have a cleaning woman?"

“Joan wouldn’t have one. It was this weird midwestern thing with her --”

Say what you want about Joan, and you could say a lot, but she was a clean-freak, an orderly-freak, a lawncare-and-gardening freak. She’d come home from a full day of shooting action scenes and then clean the oven or vacuum the fucking curtains --

“Joan is gone, Buddy. Your place is a pigsty. So hire a fucking cleaning woman. Hire a pool service and a part-time gardener.”

“Sounds expensive.”

“More expensive than Joan?”

“You got a point there.”

“I can help you with this stuff if you want me to.”

“No, I’ll get on it.”

“Did you talk to your doctor?”

“Yeah. He said just to let her sleep, and we have an appointment with him tomorrow at one.”

“You’re supposed to meet with the Sony people tomorrow at one.”

“Oh. Right.”

“I can take her if you want.”

“To the doctor’s?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Well -- no reason I guess.”

“I’m your business manager, Mr. Best.”

“Yeah. But this isn’t exactly business.”

“If it affects you it affects the business, so it is business. So what’s up with Liz? She started on the pills again, right?”

“I don’t know. I think she was just drinking this time.”

“Drinking? I thought her thing was diet pills.”

“Yeah, it was. But this guy she was with, she met him at AA, he was more of an alcy, so, from what little I could drag out of her, I gather he started drinking again, and she started drinking too, so --”

“Why did she go to AA if her problem was pills?”

“She doesn’t like NA. She says it’s always crack heads and heroin addicts and she can’t relate. She likes the alcoholics better.”

“Maybe too much.”

“Yeah, right.”

They sat and looked at the dirty water in the pool.

“So, what’s up with you, Deb? You still going out with, uh, what’s his name -- Jerry? No -- Harry?”

“Close. Larry. And no. Not for, what, a year now?”

“Oh. You going out with anybody else?”

“Are you asking me for a date?”

Buddy didn’t say anything. But a lot was going unsaid all of a sudden.

She reached over and touched his thigh.

Debbie would probably be great in bed. But then there was the problem of what would happen out of bed. And more immediately there was the problem that what he most wanted to do right now was to rent a trashy DVD, smoke half a joint and drink beer and watch the DVD, and then go the fuck to bed, alone, and sleep. Or maybe he should take a swim first, in the dirty water...

Deirdre’s voice rang out from inside the house, saying Hello she was home.

“Oh well,” said Buddy.

“Darn kids,” said Debbie. “Let’s go in, I haven’t seen Deirdre in ages.”

“You go ahead, I’m going to sit here a minute.”

He wanted to wait till his erection went away.


As he stood with Debbie out by her car he said, “Look, I’d better take Liz to the doctor myself tomorrow.”

“Okay, but --”

“No, look, you go to the meeting with Harvey and Iggy. Cover for me. This is more important.”

“You’re a good egg, Best.”

“Yeah, well --”

“Gimme a kiss.” And she lifted her face up.

Buddy gave her a little kiss and she wanted more.

“That wasn’t much of a kiss, asshole.”

“I’ve got a lot on my mind, Debbie.”

“Right. I’m being a fucking cunt.” She smiled. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”

“Right,” said Buddy.

(Do we see romance in Buddy’s future? Should he perhaps keep it in his pants for just a little while? Continued here. Please turn to the right hand column of this page for a conceivably up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™, soon to be a major motion picture starring Humphrey Bogart as Buddy and Ava Gardner as Debbie. A Larry Winchester Production.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Legend of "Gooney" McFarland

That's Gooney on the right, posing for his legion of fans at his disastrous wedding reception at the VFW

(By overwhelming popular demand we present this very special re-broadcast of a cautionary tale first seen here in June of 2007. )

Every neighborhood has one: the neighborhood nut-case; Olney back in the day distinguished itself by boasting dozens of neighborhood nut-cases at any given time. Every block had its nut-case, sometimes every house on the block had its nut-case, and indeed often there were heroic semidetached- and row-homes harboring more than one nutcase, or even a whole roistering clan of nut-cases. Lots of nut-cases in Olney. But in this land of the insane no one was less sane, and no one more feared, reviled, ridiculed, and defamed than one Martin de Pours McFarland, better known simply as “Gooney”.

Gooney McFarland (born in 1950 in one of those ugly "new" houses on Wentz Street, right by the Heintz factory) always seemed to get there first. He first got arrested at the age of eight, for breaking a window of Zapf’s music store and trying to steal one of their brand-new electric semi-hollowbody Gibson guitars. The young Gooney was a major Elvis fan at the time and he wanted his own guitar, so that he could learn how to play it and become a rock and roll sex king. Good thing for Gooney, his father, Frank X. McFarland, was a policeman. And Mr. McFarland’s job continued to be a good thing in the subsequent career of the young scalawag (although Gooney's career proved to be far from a good thing for that of the elder Mr. McFarland). It was solely because of the exploits of this young and then not-so-young madman that Officer McFarland was never promoted above the rank of patrolman, this proud ex-marine, this hardworking Joe who put himself through LaSalle College on the GI Bill while working fulltime as a cop, this staunch Catholic who fathered nine children (all of them good kids, except for the middle one, you-know-who).

First of the gang to be arrested, Gooney racked up many other firsts. In 1963 he became the first kid on the block to try pills. He had noticed the slick-suited boys from the “Harrowgate Mob” hanging around the corners of the Heintz factory compound. These guys were cool, with their skinny ties from Krass Brothers and their pennyloafers from Thom McAn, and Gooney wanted to be like them. The Harrowgate hoods soon had the young Gooney running back and forth across the street to double-shifting Heintz workers parked in their junkers, handing over little bags of pills in exchange for hard cash, which he would run back and deliver to the Harrowgate boys in one of their souped-up Thunderbirds. The Harrowgates were always wired to the gills, and of course Gooney, who would have jumped off the Betsy Ross Bridge if the Harrowgates were jumping too, tried a sample of the product, loved it, and became at the tender age of twelve the neighborhood's youngest drug addict, with a special love for the uppers called “Pink Footballs”. Alas, perhaps it was the drug that made Gooney so bold as to begin stealing from his heroes, shorting them on both pills and cash. But if Gooney was always a bold thief, he was never really a good thief. He couldn’t do anything quietly, the concept of discretion was alien and hateful to him, and he could not stand not to boast to one and all of any new crime he had committed. So it took the Harrowgate Mob about two whole days to realize that this little brat was ripping them off. They beat him up and then tossed him down that trash-filled gorge in the woods across Front Street from Cardinal Dougherty High School. But what did Gooney care, after he finally awoke in Einstein Hospital the next day? This would be just another one of the many stories he could bore people with his whole life.

First to get busted and take pills, first to get the last piece of shit beaten absolutely out of his wiry little form, Gooney was the first to try pot as well; the first in the neighborhood to sell pot; the first to get busted for selling pot; and the first to get sent down to Juvie, despite all the best efforts of the beleaguered Officer McFarland. Down at the Detention Center at 100 W. Coulter Street, Gooney became the first kid ever to attempt escape from the roof, trying to rappel down on a clothesline that turned out to reach only to within 50 feet of the ground.

After six more months in the hospital the now permanently-limping Gooney was released and sent back to the familial mini-manse on Wentz Street. Officer McFarland, a long-time usher at St. Helena’s Church (in which capacity he was a colleague of Olney's poet laureate Arnold Schnabel), amazingly was able to talk the priests at Cardinal Dougherty High into admitting Gooney as a freshman in the fall of 1966. He was put into the lowest academic section (section 20, “the Vegetables” as the “Brains” in sections 1-3 cruelly dubbed them), but even the easygoing courses in this nether-region (Basic Shop, Basic Phys Ed, Basic Numbers and an English course based on the “Dr. Seuss” books) proved beyond the limits of his attention. He drew all Fs that first semester, but this didn’t bother Gooney because he had scored in those months another first: first kid in the neighborhood to try LSD.

The incredibly patient Principal Father Dean allowed Gooney one more semester to try and buckle down and straighten out. Gooney got four Fs again. Who gets Fs in Phys Ed, anyway? Who flunks a course where the most rigorous reading assignment is “The Cat in the Hat”? A daily tripping Gooney McFarland, that’s who.

Next year it was off to the brutal grey corridors of the dreaded Olney High for our young hero. Little afraid of the striding African American teen gangs the Clang Gang and the Moroccans, Gooney blithely befriended the black kids, even affecting their mannerisms, dialect and mode of dress. He soon became the Clang Gang’s liaison-drugrunner to the school’s white kids. The Clang Gang had apparently not heard of Gooney’s treachery a few years before with the white Harrowgate Mob. But they soon experienced a similar treachery, and one day Gooney was sent sailing, flailing his arms and screaming bloody murder, out of a third floor window of Olney High.

Eight months in the hospital and young Gooney was back on the street, or at least back in his parents’ house, where he spent several months watching TV and getting his strength back.

The year was 1968, and every young man in his right mind was doing everything he possibly could to avoid the draft and Vietnam. Gooney of course on his 18th birthday took the subway downtown and volunteered for the marines at their recruiting office at Broad and Cherry. His services were refused by the USMC, on grounds both physical, educational, and most of all, psychological. Gooney marched right over to the army office and was soon frog-marched right out again and ordered never to darken their doors again. The army was desperate for manpower in that awful year but not quite that desperate. The distraught Gooney went wandering down to the low bars by the docks. In one of these reeking hellholes he met some off-duty sailors from the naval base; words were exchanged, he was taken outside and soundly thrashed, then tossed down into a forty-foot deep urban renewal excavation. So it was off to the hospital again for the patriotic young Gooney, who only wanted to serve, or at any rate who only wanted to, as he put it, “kick ass for my country”, but who instead got his own ass kicked by his country’s servicemen.

So it went for Gooney. When he had sufficiently recovered his old man got him a job as a slag shoveler at the neighboring Heintz plant. Gooney lasted almost a month. Next up was a good job as a janitor at the Tastykake factory, and Gooney managed to last three months there. During his tenure at Tastykake a young assembly line-worker named Barbara “Babbles” Boylan for some mysterious reason or reasons took a shine to the manic, hobbling, broken-nosed Gooney McFarland. She became "in the family way", there was a very hurried wedding at St. Helena’s, followed by a drunken riot at the reception at the VFW on Chew Street; and Gooney, instead of heading off to the planned honeymoon in Wildwood, spent the next six weeks in the hospital, followed by six months' convalescence at Holmesburg Prison on four counts of aggravated assault and battery.

Released, Gooney moved into the Rosemar Street rowhome of his pregnant young wife. Mr. Boylan got Gooney a job as an apprentice roofer. On his fifth day at work, while eating a hoagie and drinking a pint can of Ortlieb's and dangling his feet off the edge of the roof of a 75-foot high warehouse in Kensington, Gooney somehow managed to fall off.

After recovering once more, Gooney flat out refused ever to work again. He applied for a disability pension, and his father and his father-in-law (thinking only of his new baby boy and his poor wife Babbles) pulled some strings with the local Democratic party bigwigs, and Gooney was awarded a modest disability allotment.

Gooney now spent his days in the bars, any bars that would have him, but primarily the Green Parrot, the Huddle, Pat’s Tavern, and occasionally even Smith’s way over on Broad Street, never visiting the same bar two days in a row lest he wear out his always tenuous welcome.

One day he walked out of the Green Parrot, took all his clothes off (it was December, and snowing) and went across 5th Street to Fisher Park, where he proceeded to roll down Dead Man’s Hill, over and over again.

It required six patrolmen to get Gooney into a paddy wagon, and his next permanent address was the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry, in the Great Northeast section of Philadelphia, an institution popularly known simply as “Byberry”, or “the looney bin.”

Here at Byberry he achieved perhaps the most difficult of his many “firsts”. He became the first and only inmate in Byberry’s long and inglorious history to escape from the “Violently Insane” ward.

Somehow Gooney removed not only the wire mesh but the steel bars from his fourth floor window. No one knows how. There were no tools found and the mesh and bars seemed somehow simply to have been ripped with main force from the granite window frame. This time there was no rope however, merely two sheets knotted together and seventy-five feet of empty space below the end of them.

Gooney was found the next morning on the front stoop of his parents’ semi-detached on Wentz Street, clad only in his bloodied and soiled hospital pajamas and slippers, with both his legs broken and his skull fractured.

When he awoke from his coma a week later his first words were, “Am I dead yet?”

Incredibly, no. Perhaps it was Mr. Elwood Smith, the venerable proprietor of Smith’s Restaurant at Broad and Olney, who summed up Gooney McFarland best: “Some guys you got to beat into the grave with a stick.”

(Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for listings of links to other "Tales From the O-Zone". You might also enjoy our serialization of Railroad Train to Heaven, the complete and unexpurgated memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, Olney's beloved "Rhyming Brakeman".)

And now, performing Gooney McFarland's favorite song, The Honeycombs, featuring the fabulously coiffed Honey Lantree on the drums:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 165: Chalfonte

Our previous episode found our hero Arnold Schnabel assuming the role of savior of the savior by means of a flying full-body tackle of his friend “Josh” the merest second before that son of the guy upstairs would have been summarily crushed beneath the white-wall tires of an onrushing red Cadillac; now it’s time (in fact it’s long past time) to walk Josh home, or at least to his home on earth, viz., the lovely Chalfonte Hotel, here in the quaint resort and fishing town of Cape May, NJ, on this momentous Saturday night in August of 1963,...

(Please click here to go to the first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning memoir, which the noted critic Harold Bloom has called “sprawling but not appalling”.)

I did my best to keep up with him.

“I love this world,” he said. “Don’t you love it, Arnold?”

I was thinking I would love it a heck of a lot more if I weren’t in pain, but I said simply, “Yes.”

We were passing that dress shop that Clarissa had robbed earlier tonight.

“The smells,” Josh said. “The honeysuckle. The ocean. I love that ocean smell. Don’t you, Arnold?”

“Yeah, they’re good smells,” I said.

”You don’t get these smells,” he said, “you know, upstairs.”

“No,” I said. “I suppose not.”

He slowed down a bit, turned and looked at me.

“What?” he said.

“Nothing,” I said.

He finally tossed away his cigarette.

“No,” he said, “you were thinking something.”


I still wasn’t sure how nearly omniscient he was. But I figured he was at least omniscient enough to know that I was thinking something I wasn’t saying. So I might as well say it.

“It’s about the smells,” I said.

“Yes? What? You don’t like these smells?”

“No,” I said. “I like them a lot. But the thing is, when you’re human, sometimes the smells are not so good.”

“Oh. I get it. Like, uh, the smell of death.”

“Yeah, I was thinking of that. Among other things.”

Other things too numerous to mention even if I had a mind to.

“Wow. You really know how to put a damper on the fun, Arnold.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“Just enjoy the present moment.”

“I try to.”

“I know,” he said. “But it’s hard. Because, as you were saying earlier, all over the world people are in pain. Misery. Despair.”

True. Not to mention that I was pulsating with aches and pains myself as I hobbled along. I was hoping that it would occur to Josh that my various scrapes and bruises might be painful, and that he would offer to heal them for me. But he was just too drunk I’m afraid. And I was too shy to ask him straight out for another miracle on a night when he’d already performed several, including bringing back a decadent old man from the dead.

Suddenly he stopped and turned to me.

He opened up his arms.

“We screwed up, Arnold. My father, me, and the – uh –”

“The Holy Ghost,” I said.

“Spirit,” said Josh. “He really prefers Holy Spirit now.”

“Sorry,” I said. “Spirit.”

“He thinks it makes him sound less – scary.”

“It does, I think,” I said. 
“To me he’ll always be H.G., though.”
“H.G. For ‘Holy Ghost’. I’ve always called him H.G., because, you know, it’s a little awkward addressing someone as ‘Holy Ghost’. Or ‘Holy Spirit’, for that matter.”
“Um,” I said.
"But, the thing of it is, Arnold, we did – all three of us – we screwed up. Royally.”

Who was I, a mere human, to tell him different?

“Well, don’t feel too bad, Josh,” I said. “Humans screw up all the time.”

“True. But I like to think that we three would hold ourselves to a slightly higher standard.”

“Let’s get you to bed, Josh,” I said.


And we continued our walk, past Hughes and down to Columbia, where we crossed the street and then turned left.

After having walked in silence for a block or so I couldn’t take it, and so, just to make conversation, I said:

“So, Josh, what do you intend to do down here?”

“On the earth.”


“Well, I’ll tell you what I don’t intend to do.”

He was walking on the street side of the sidewalk, and as he said this he stepped off the curb, and stumbled, but he regained his footing without falling.

He turned to face me.

“What I’m not going to do, Arnold, is get myself crucified. Not if I can help it. Or scourged. There will be none of this, this, redemption business. Once was enough for all that.” He started walking again. Then stopped. “Am I wrong to take this attitude? I know, I know, you’re not qualified, but again, if you had to say, forced at gunpoint, am I wrong not to want to go through all that again?”

“No,” I said. “I would think once was enough. More than enough.”

“You’re telling me.”

Josh took off again, striding along with his hands in his pockets, me limping alongside a step or so behind him.

“This whole business of me allowing myself to be horribly tortured and then agonizingly killed as part of some scheme to, to redeem humanity? What was I thinking?”

“I don’t know,” I said, honestly.

Suddenly he stopped again and brought out of his trousers pocket the fat reefer we had been smoking on the way to the Pilot House.

“Well, what do you know? Forgot I still had this baby.”

He took out his Ronson from his other pocket and he lit the thing up.

“Josh,” I said. “Really –”

“Relax, Arnold,” he said, puffing. “There’s absolutely no one around. If I see a cop car coming I’ll toss it away. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said, looking back over my shoulder just to make sure a patrol car wasn’t already silently cruising up behind us.

“Here,” said Josh. “Take some of this.”

What I really wanted was one of those Pall Malls in his shirt pocket, but I settled on the reefer.

“At least this stuff doesn’t make you physically ill,” he said.

“You’ve got a point,” I said.

We strolled along Columbia, passing the reefer back and forth, and then we saw the graceful pale mass of the Chalfonte across the way there on Howard Street.

“How about a nightcap?” said Josh.

“I hope you’re kidding me, Josh.”

“Just one.”

“Josh, the last thing you need is just one more.”

“You speak as one who knows.”

“I know a little about drunkenness, it’s true. And a lot about hangovers. And believe me, you’re going to have a tough enough time tomorrow morning as it is.”

“I thought I vomited it all out.”

“No, Josh. It doesn’t really work that way. Trust me.”

He handed me the butt of the reefer, and I stopped so that we could finish it before going up to the hotel.

He watched me puffing, and then held out his hand, ready to attempt to smoke even the last and least tiniest butt of the butt. I duly proffered it, and he took it in his fingertips. He puffed it down to a nubbin the size of a fly, and then finally tossed it away.

“But you forget one thing, Arnold,” he said, slowly exhaling.

“I do?” I couldn’t even remember what we had been talking about. “Only one thing?”

“About the hangovers.”

“Oh. Yes?”

“I’m the son of God. I don’t have to have hangovers.”

We walked up toward the Chalfonte’s steps.

“Okay, tell me something, Josh,” I said. “Then why did you allow yourself to get so sick from drinking? Couldn’t you just have made the sickness not happen?”

“So one might think, Arnold. But I was drunk.”


“I forgot who I was.”

“I see.”

“So what do you say? One beer in the King Edward Room?”

“But then I’ll be hungover tomorrow,” I said. “I’m only human.”

“So have a soda.”

“No, really --”

“Something to eat? A sandwich. Some pie.”

“Josh,” I said, “I very much doubt they’re serving food this late.”

“Oh, for me they will.”

The truth was, I was hungry. Very hungry in fact.

“Come on, Arnold.”

The attentive reader of these pages will know that I often have a certain difficulty in saying no, to anyone. So just imagine what it’s like when it’s the son of God that I’m talking to.

“Okay,” I said.

And we went up the wooden steps of the Chalfonte.

(Continued here, because we have no choice. Please go to the right hand side of this page to find what on certain days might be an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Tickets are now on sale for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Fall Ball at the VFW at 5th and Chew; entertainment provided by “Freddy Ayres and Ursula”, and very special guest stars The Joe & Larry Schmidt Big Band; all proceeds to go to the Schnabel Museum Project.)

This top-secret Soviet satellite photo (please click to enlarge) should be of value to readers who wish to trace the progress of Arnold and Josh's stroll from the Pilot House, on Decatur between Washington Street and Carpenter's Lane, to the Chalfonte Hotel on Howard Street (indicated by the red inverted teardrop).

Monday, September 21, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 15: Rebel Yell

In our previous episode our hero Buddy Best dropped everything, flew to Milwaukee on a cold and rainy night, and rescued his daughter Liz from an abusive and drunken lout of a boyfriend. Now he really needs a drink...

(Click here to go the first chapter of this “shameless sudser of the seamy shenanigans of a Tinseltown hack” -- J.J. Hunsecker, in The Reader’s Digest.)

By the time Buddy got Craig and his stuff in a cab and had talked down Liz and got her to bed it was eleven o’clock and he needed a real drink, or drinks, so he looked for and found Liz’s keys and went next door to The Nomad and ordered a Rebel Yell on the rocks. He wanted a good beer and the bartender recommended a Michigan microbrew called Two-Headed Ale or Two-Hearted Ale, whatever, it was good. And because he really wanted them he bought a pack of cigarettes, Lucky Strikes, the unfiltered kind.

He called Marlene’s cell number on his cell.

“Whatcha doin’?”

“Watching a Jennifer Lopez movie because I have no life. How’s Liz?”

“She’ll be better. Listen, baby, do me a solid, get me a flight back to L.A. tomorrow, for two, for me and Liz. First class this time. And straight through. Any time after about noon.”

“What happened? Is Liz in trouble?”

“She’s -- I think she needs to come home for a while --”

“Oh no.”

“It’s --”

“I’m sorry, Buddy.”

“Yeah, well --”

“Buddy, are you okay?”

“I’ve been better. I will be better. After I drink this Rebel Yell I’ll be better.”

“Rebel Yell -- you’re such a cracker.”

“But I’m black on the inside, baby.”

“You’re in a bar, aren’t you?”


“Shouldn’t you be with Liz?”

“She’s right next door.”

“Well finish your drink and go be with your daughter, man.”

“I’ll do that.”

“I mean it.”

“One and done, babe.”

“Okay. I’ll take care of the tickets.”

“Thanks, call me tomorrow but don’t call me early.”

Buddy folded up the phone and picked up his bourbon.

“You’re from L.A.?”

This was a woman sitting to his right. She had a friend with her and they were both looking at him.

“Yeah,” said Buddy.

“Whatcha doin’ in Milwaukee?”

“Um, visiting my daughter.”

“She goes to school here?”

“Yeah, UMW.”

“You mean UWM?”

“Right, that’s it.”

She wasn’t bad looking. They were both about thirty-five or so. Neither were bad looking really. (Just a couple of battle-hardened old campaigners who had been to hell and back and were cheerfully ready to go there again.) Which wasn’t to say they were great looking. But then again Buddy knew he wasn’t any box of chocolates either. They were drinking hefeweisse out of those tall glasses, with lemon wedges floating in the beer, bar Trend # 6031.

“What do ya do, in L.A.?”

“I write and produce movies.”

“Oh my God, I knew it! Carol, doesn’t he look like a movie producer?”

“He does. He really does. You do.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing,” said Buddy, and the women laughed.

Buddy chatted with the women. They were outgoing but dull, he was charming. He backed them up and got himself another beer. After a while the other woman went to the head and the first woman, whose name Buddy had been told but which he’d forgotten, put her hand on his thigh.

“I notice you’re not wearing a wedding ring, Buddy, but I do think I see the faint trace of one on your ring finger.”

She touched the thin white trace with her own finger.

“Oh. Yeah, I did have a wedding ring but, uh --”

“What happened to it?”

“To tell the truth I gave it away a couple weeks ago.”



(True story: walking home from Café des Imbéciles on the night Joan had told him she was leaving him, he had given the ring to a panhandler on Hollywood Boulevard.)


“Because my wife left me. For her acting teacher.”

“Oh, you poor man.”

Now she had her hand on him and it was getting hard. That was a good feeling, but. But, to tell the truth, even if he didn’t have to get back to his daughter, he just wasn’t interested. What up with that? When you’re young you don’t give a damn, you’ll do anything with a hole in it, then you get old and you start getting picky all of a sudden, you think about all the boring talk you’ll have to put up with, hers and yours, and, well, anyway, besides...

“Look, sweetheart.”

What the fuck was her name?

“Yeah, Buddy?”

She kissed his cheek lightly.

“I really can’t do anything tonight. I have to get back to my daughter.”


“Yeah. Damn.”


Buddy sacked out on the couch and got less than a half-decent night’s sleep. He could hear the rain and the wind outside, and he was weirdly aware of not being in his own bed, of being in Milwaukee in his daughter’s apartment which smelled like cigarettes and beer, of the fact that his daughter was passed out in the bedroom, of the fact that he’d have to deal with her problem, her problems, his own problems. But it all could be worse. He didn’t have cancer, she didn’t have cancer. He could deal with this, he only wished he was in a comfortable bed and that he could sleep. And finally his brain ran out of gas and he did sleep.

He got up at around nine, feeling physically crappy and very hungry. He checked in on Liz. She was still sleeping, and he let her sleep. He left her a note on the toilet seat, then he got an umbrella out of a closet and went out for breakfast. He walked around in the wind and the rain for a bit. The streets were nearly empty. He found a little bohemian coffee shop that served food. Even Milwaukee had its bohemians. There was a fortyish guy with a beard and ponytail nursing coffee, and sketching, and rolling his own cigarettes, the same guy you saw in every bohemian coffee shop. Outside it was still raining. It looked like a seaport town. Presumably there was a great lake somewhere nearby.

Buddy ate yogurt and fruit, an omelet and two muffins, and read the paper. Private Jessica Lynch had been reunited with her family. And back in L.A. you just knew that assholes were falling all over themselves trying to get the movie rights to that one.

His cellphone rang, it was Marlene:

“Got you a straight-through flight at 2:35 p.m.”

“First --”

“First class.”

“Hey, you’re great.”

“How’s Liz?”

“Still sleeping I think.”

“If you need anything, Buddy --”

“Oh, thanks, Marlene --”

“’Cause, you know, well, I’m here for you --”


“So is she going back into rehab?”

“Well, I don’t know --”

“Okay, but if you need any help --”

“Right. Thanks, baby.”

Buddy went over to the counter and refilled his cup from a big jug, and as he was going back to his table the bohemian guy asked him if he wanted to play a game of chess. Buddy thanked the guy for the offer but said he didn’t play. Actually Buddy did play chess although he wasn’t crazy about the game. He just didn’t feel like playing chess now and with this dude. He went back to his table but now that the coffee-shop ice had been broken the guy began talking to Buddy, across two empty tables. Okay, thought Buddy, here it fucking comes. And, after a few false starts or feints which Buddy did his best to barely acknowledge, it came: in a flat and nasal midwestern tenor that reminded Buddy of stale chewing gum, the dude launched and held forth, on his unremarkable life, his conspiracy theories, his modified zen philosophy, and his wish to see a bloody revolution; and as he droned on Buddy looked past him at the rainy and windy and mostly empty street. This was the middle of the country but it felt like the edge of the world.

(Can things get any more depressing for Buddy? Go to our next chapter to find out. Kindly look to the right hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™, as seen on The Dick Powell Theatre (retitled A Word to the Wisenheimer), starring Robert Mitchum as Buddy, and Red Buttons as The Bohemian Guy. Adapted and Directed by Larry Winchester. A Four Star Production.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 164: Cadillac!

In our previous episode our memoirist Arnold Schnabel finally succeeded in ushering his inebriated friend and personal savior “Josh” out the door of the Pilot House (“Featuring ‘Songs That Make You Smile’ with ‘Freddy Ayres and Ursula’©, as seen on Ed Hurst’s Steel Pier Show, WPVI-TV!”), in the seaside resort of Cape May, NJ, on a very long Saturday night in August of 1963…

(Latecomers may go here to see the very first chapter of what the noted critic Harold Bloom has called “not only the finest book available to humanity, but quite possibly the longest”.)

“Josh,” I said. I tentatively let go of his arm.


Unfortunately he started to sway again, but just the upper part of his body, in a circular motion, while his widespread legs stood firm.

Once again I made to put my hand on his arm, but he pulled it away, and with this movement he staggered backwards a few steps and stumbled off the sidewalk into the gutter and directly into the path of an enormous red Cadillac roaring up Decatur Street from the direction of the beach.

What could I do? I threw myself bodily at Josh, tackling him in a manner that would probably have gotten me called for unnecessary roughness if this had been a football game, and we tumbled together across the street, winding up all the way over in the opposite gutter, with me on top of Josh.

“I didn’t know you cared, Arnold,” he said.

I pushed myself up off him and managed to sit down on the curb. Josh sat up right there in the street, but at least there were no cars roaring down on him now.

The red Cadillac and whoever was in it had just kept going. Maybe they were drunk too. What am I saying? It was past two in the morning on a Saturday night in Cape May, of course they were drunk, probably searching for some other drunks to run down or another car full of drunks to crash into. The Romans had their gladiatorial games, well, this was how we amused ourselves nowadays.

Sitting there on the asphalt Josh took a drag off his cigarette, which he had somehow held onto through all this.

“Are you okay, Josh?” I asked.

“Oh, sure,” he said. “How about you?”

Both my knees were scraped and bloody. There was another long scrape from my right elbow down to the wrist, and the heel of my left hand was scraped. But none of my bones seemed to be broken.

“I’ll live,” I said.

His face assumed a serious expression.

“I’m not doing a very good job of being a human,” he said.

“Well, no one ever said it was easy, Josh,” I said. “Now let’s just get you home before something else happens.”

I worked myself up to my feet. My entire body ached, and stung, and throbbed unpleasantly. Well, okay, not my entire body, but enough of it that the places where it didn’t ache or sting or throb didn’t seem to matter very much.

“Give me your hand, Josh,” I said.

He did as I asked and I pulled him to his feet. His khakis and shirt had gotten scuffed but he seemed not too much worse for wear.

Before a Mack truck or an oil tanker could come racing down the street I pulled him over and onto the sidewalk.

“So, Josh,” I said, “seriously, you need to go home. So, whatever it is you do to go to your father’s place, I really think you should do it.”

“Like click my heels together three times?”

“Whatever it takes.”

“Well, here’s the thing, Arnold,” he said. “I’m not going back to my father’s house.”

“You’re not?”

“No. I’m not going back. You’ve been there. Would you want to live there?”

“Well, uh, um --”

Now that he mentioned it, no, I wouldn’t, especially.

“See?” he said. “You don’t want to go there, not really, now that you know what it’s like.”

“Well, I assume it’s better than the other place,” I said.

“True, but that’s not saying much,” he said. He looked around. At the buildings and houses, the trees, the nighttime world. “I’m sick of my father’s house, Arnold. Sick of it. I want to stay here, on the earth, among men. And women, too, of course.”

As if on cue four girls came walking up the sidewalk, laughing and chattering.

“Hello, ladies,” said Josh.

They looked at him as if he looked exactly as he did, that is, a good-looking young man who needed a haircut and a shave and who had apparently been rolling around in the street, standing next to a not quite so young man wearing bermuda shorts with bloody scrapes all over his various limbs.

The young ladies put their hands over their mouths, giggling and whispering, and they kept on walking past us. To tell the truth they were staggering and wobbling a bit, hanging onto each other’s arms. Drunkenness was rampant this Saturday night in Cape May.

Josh watched them tottering away, and then he turned back to me.

“I’ve talked it all over with my father and with the Holy Spirit,” he said.

“And what did they say?” I asked.

“To tell the truth I think it’s a matter of complete indifference to them.”

I had nothing to say to this. Or, rather, there were many things I might have said and asked, but now just didn’t seem to be the time.

“But don’t worry, Arnold,” said Josh. “I do have a place to stay.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” I said.

“I’ve taken rooms at this Chalfonte place. Do you know it?”

“Yes,” I said. “Steve’s staying there.”

“Yeah, I know. He recommended it to me.”

I had forgotten that they had met. Not to mention that he had on several occasions appeared to me under the guise of Steve.

“Well, let’s get going then,” I said. “It’s not far.”

“Right,” he said, and off we went down Decatur.

I was limping again, but Josh was strolling along as if he had just arisen from a refreshing nap.

(Continued here, and, at this rate, for approximately thirty-two more years. Kindly cast an eye to the right hand column of this page to find what is fairly often an up-to-date listing of links to all other extant episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, available absolutely free, gratis, and for nothing, although donations will be accepted in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society’s proposed Schnabel Museum on the site of the old Heintz factory at B and Nedro.)

Monday, September 14, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 14: rescue

After a very disturbing phone call our hero Buddy Best has taken the first available flight to Milwaukee, where his daughter Liz is going to grad school...

(Click here to go to our previous chapter, or go here to see the beginning of this “journey into the dark night of the soul of modern-day Tinseltown” -- J.J. Hunsecker, nationally syndicated columnist.)

Buddy got into Milwaukee a little after ten. He’d flown coach, and he had had to take a horrible little shuttle flight up from Chicago. He took a cab to Liz’s apartment on Bradey Street. It was on the ground floor, next to a bar called The Nomad. The lights were on behind drawn curtains, a TV noise came from inside. It was raining, and cold, Buddy was only wearing a sport coat. He rang the bell. He stood there with his overnight bag, getting wet. He took off his wet eyeglasses, folded them up and put them in his jacket pocket

He rang the bell again. He had responsibly had just one lousy drink on the first flight, and the shuttle hadn’t even served alcohol. The door opened, Liz was opening it. She had a cigarette in her hand and a lot of smeary make-up on; she smelled like cigarettes, and beer.

“Hi, Dad.”

“Hi Liz.”

She kissed his cheek then stepped, stumbled back.

There was no hallway, the living room was right there, some longhaired stubble-faced lout was sitting on the couch. There were cans of beer all over the coffee table.

Buddy came in, closed the door.

“Hey, Dad! Have a drink, man,” said the lout.

The TV was on, some sitcom.

“Dad,” said Liz.

Her eyes were bloodshot. Under the pancake there was a bruise on her jaw.

Buddy stood there holding his overnight bag.

“Do you want like a beer, Dad?” she said.

Her head was not quite steady.

“Have a fuckin’ beer, Dad!” yelled the lout.

“Dad,” said Liz.

“Liz,” said Buddy.

“What?” she said, her voice breaking.

“Are you -- you’re --”

“I’m not on pills, Dad. I promise. I’m really not on
pills --”

“We don’t need no fucking pills!” yelled the lout.

“We’ve just been, like, drinking,” said Liz.

“Pills are for pussies!” yelled the guy.

“Shut the fuck up, pal,” said Buddy.


“You heard me.”

“Hey, fuck you, daddy,” he said, but not very loud.

“No,” said Buddy, “fuck you.”

“Hey, man --”

Buddy looked at Liz. Her head was almost wobbling.

“This is -- Keith?”

“Craig,” said Liz.

“Who the fuck is Keith?” said Craig, louder now.

“Nobody,” said Liz. “My dad can’t remember names.”

“Who the fuck is Keith?”

“I just told you, nobody, dork!”

Who the fuck is Keith, bitch?

“All right,” said Buddy, “Keith or Craig or whatever your name is, get the hell out of here.”

“I live here, man.”

“Not any more,” said Buddy.

“You can’t just --”

“My name’s on the lease. Your name, whatever the fuck it is, isn’t. So pack up your shit and split.”

The lout stood up and, probably accidentally, turned over the coffee table with all the beer cans and cigarette butts on it.

“Shit,” said Craig. Then he looked up at Buddy. “Fuck you. I ain’t leaving. Make me leave.”

He assumed some sort of half-assed martial arts stance.

“Craig,” said Liz.

“Shut up,” said Craig. “Come on, tough guy, make me leave. I got a fucking black belt, man. I was a fucking Navy Seal, man. I’ll fucking kill you.”

Buddy stood there, still holding his overnight bag in his left hand. He was very tempted just to beat the living shit out of this nitwit, but he took a breath and then with his right hand he got out his cellphone and thumbed it open.

“Who’re you fucking calling?”

“Nine one one,” said Buddy.

“Dad,” said Liz.

“Don’t you fucking do that,” said the lout.

“All you have to do is leave and I won’t.”

“Fuck you, man. Fuck you.”

The lout made a move toward Buddy but he slipped on the overturned table, and Buddy slammed him over the head with the overnight bag. Down the kid went on his hands and knees. He mumbled something Buddy couldn't make out, but the last two words were "kill you". He started to get up. Fuck it, Buddy kicked him hard in the side and the kid turned over, doubled up and cursing. Buddy couldn’t help it and he kicked him in the side again. The kid stopped cursing and started gasping. Buddy turned to look at Liz and only realized now that she had been screaming through all of this. She stopped screaming and put both hands over her mouth. Then she ran out of the room and into the bedroom or bathroom and shut the door.

Buddy put down his bag and closed up his phone and put it away. His heart was racing, his hands were trembling. He really wanted to kick this idiot a few more times, and he almost did. Instead he walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. There was one loose pint can of Miller High Life. He took the can and went back into the living room.

Lout boy was still lying there, moaning and crying.

The sitcom was still playing on the TV. Buddy went over and clicked it off.

There was an easy chair near the kid, and Buddy sat down in it. He opened up the can and took a drink. Shit beer but at least it was cold. He took another gulp.

“All right, Keith, calm down, you’ll live.”

“Craig,” sobbed Craig. “My fucking name is Craig, man.”

“Okay. Craig.”

“You fucking broke my ribs. I really think you busted my ribs. I’m suing you, man.”

“Go ahead. You’re lucky I didn’t break your fucking skull.”

“You broke my fucking ribs.”

“You hit my daughter, you douche bag.”

“I know, I know, I fucking suck. I fucking suck. I fucking suck..."

He started sobbing again.

“Hey, Craig, cool it. Listen, is she using the pills, or what?”

“No, man. We’ve just been drinking. That’s all. Just drinking, just beer, honest --”

“All right, I believe you.”

“My fucking ribs are killing me, man.”

“I’m sorry about that.”

“I really think they’re like broken.”

“Sit up. Let me feel.”

The kid sat up, and Buddy reached over and felt.

“I don’t think they’re broken, Craig. Couple days in bed you’ll start to feel better. Lay off the damn beer you’ll feel a hundred percent better.”

“Do I really gotta go?”

“Yeah. You really gotta go. And listen, Craig, you can’t have anything to do with Liz any more. Do you understand? You can’t see her any more. You can’t phone her or write her or e-mail her. Do you understand this?”

“Yeah. I understand. I been through it all before. I’m a fucking loser. I’m a fucking --”

“Okay, all right. Look, you got any place you can go, any friends?”

“No one who will have me.”

“Where do your parents live?”


There was no table next to the chair so Buddy put his beer on the floor and then took out his wallet.

“Here’s a C-note, Craig. You can take the bus.”

(Continued here. Please refer to the right hand column of this page for a listing of links to all other available chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™, to be serialized this fall on the Schlitz Playhouse of Stars, starring James Mason as Buddy, Anne Francis as Liz, and James Dean as Craig.)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 163: him

Previously in this Gold View Award©-winning memoir, our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend “Josh” were finally ready to exit the Pilot House (“Stop by for ‘Waltz Wednesdays’, featuring ‘Freddy Ayres and Ursula™’ and our all-you-can-eat Kielbasa ‘n’ Kraut Special!”), when who should Josh see at the bar but a certain disreputable old acquaintance...

“Listen, Josh,” I said. “Let’s just try to slip out quietly.”

“Slip out quietly? You want me to run? Run from him?”

“Well, I don’t mean run, exactly --”

“Oh, I know what you mean.”

“But, Josh, he’s -- he’s always around, isn’t he?”

“Well, sure, in a manner of speaking.”

“So he’ll be around later,” I said.

“So I should just avoid a confrontation. When he’s obviously trying to bait me. He must know I’m in town. He probably knows I’m in this place.”

“Well -- do you want to play into his hands?” I asked.

“Play into his hands?”

“His -- his scheme.”

“His fiendish scheme, huh?”

“Well --”

“I’m not afraid of him, Arnold.”

“Josh, can I say something?”

“Of course.” He took his cigarettes out of his shirt pocket, gave the pack a shake so that exactly one popped up. I guess he saw me looking at the pack. “I’m sorry, would you like one?” he asked.

I was very tempted.

“Or maybe I shouldn’t ask,” he said. “I keep forgetting you’re trying to quit.”

What the heck, I thought, I’d gone a whole day. One won’t kill me now. But before I could say okay, he said, “You’re right, I shouldn’t ask you. You don’t mind if I have one more, do you?”

“No, go ahead,” I said, stifling a sigh.

He went ahead, and I watched as he lit himself up with his Ronson, watched as he looked fondly at the cigarette as he exhaled that first fine lungful of smoke.

A raucous instrumental song was playing on the jukebox now. Although the song had no words it sounded like an ode to cigarettes and cheap whiskey, and possibly also to extra-marital concupiscence.

“So, what is it?” said Josh. The cigarette did seem to be calming him down.

“What is what?” I said.

“You were going to tell me something. Or so you said.”

“Oh. Right. It’s just that you’ve been drinking, Josh. Quite a bit. And you’ve been very sick. And then you passed out. So I wonder if it’s such a good idea that you, uh, confront, um --”

“That guy out there,” said Josh.

“Yes,” I said.

“In my weakened condition.”


He paused, smoking. He leaned around and forward again, to peek down to the end of the bar where they all were.

“Still there,” he said. “Looks like he’s drinking a Manhattan. They’re all drinking Manhattans.”

“It could really get ugly, Josh,” I said.

“Especially with those other idiots there,” he said.


“That Miss Evans,” he said. “What’s her deal with you, Arnold?”

I shrugged.

“What is she,” he asked. “Obsessed?”

“She likes me.”

“Not that that’s so strange,” he said. “That she likes you.”

“It seems strange to me,” I said. “But then life seems strange to me.”

“And those other two,” said Josh. “The DeBores?”

“DeVore,” I said.

“What’s their raison d'être?”

“I have no idea, but they won’t leave me alone either.”

“There’s a place in hell for people like those two,” he said.

“Maybe,” I said.

“No, I’m being serious. There really is a place in hell for people like them.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Their punishment is that they have to spend eternity with people who are just as boring as they are. If not more so.”

“Let’s just slip out quietly,” I said.

He bent forward again, looking down the bar.

“Our boy’s really chatting up the Evans woman. Hope he knows what he’s in for with her.”

“Come on, Josh,” I said. “While they’re distracted, we’ll just walk right through the bar and out.”

“You’re really afraid, aren’t you?”

“I just think it might be better if you get a good sleep first. If he’s around tomorrow --”

“Oh, I’m sure he will be.”

“Deal with him tomorrow then,” I said. “After you’ve had a good breakfast.”

“Breakfast,” he said. “You’ve just reminded me. I said I’d have breakfast with this Magda girl.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I’m going to need to be rested to deal with her.”

“You’re probably right.”

“If I’m battling that guy --” he tossed his head in the direction of where that dark man presumably still stood, drinking a Manhattan, “-- all night, I’m going to be in no shape to face Magda.”

“No shape at all,” I said.

“Okay, then. For once I’ll follow your advice. But this is not a retreat.”

“No, of course not.”

“More of a tactical maneuver.”

“Exactly,” I said.

“Like don’t send in your infantry until your artillery is in place.”


“All right, let’s go.”

“Right, let’s go,” I said, and I led the way, out the hallway and past the stage and the near end of the bar, not even looking to my right to where the Devil and the other ones, the damned ones, were. I made it through the the table area and to the front door, I opened it and went through, turned and held the door open. Josh was a few paces behind me, walking slowly, smoking his cigarette and looking back over his shoulder at the bar. Our so-called friends were all facing away, all except for the tall dark man, who was looking this way, holding his sparkling Manhattan, looking through the smoky bar at Josh, and then at me, and smiling, then nodding slightly while raising his drink to us.

“Come on, Josh,” I said.

I took his arm, and pulled him out the door, closing it behind him.

“That motherf**ker,” he said.

“Josh,” I said. “Let it go.”

“Pardon my language,” he said.


“Okay, let’s get you home,” I said, and I led him down the steps to the sidewalk.

It suddenly occurred to me that his home was not on this planet.

(Continued here, and for who knows how long now, since the good people of the Arnold Schnabel Society have just informed me that a whole new trove of Arnold’s memoirs have just been discovered beneath a pile of old issues of the Catholic Standard & Times in a coal box in the basement of Arnold’s mother’s house at B and Nedro. Please turn to the right hand side of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Buy your tickets now for The Olney Art Players’ production of the new musical Arnold! at the Fern Rock Theatre, featuring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in a special limited-run engagement.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 13: civil question

On the domestic front, our hero Buddy Best’s wife has left him, and his son has moved back home after losing his job and breaking up with his own wife; Buddy has also had to deal with a spot of school trouble concerning his stepdaughter Deirdre, and he has received a disquieting phone call from his former wife. However, Buddy’s career as a B-movie auteur continues...

(Click here to go to the preceding episode; latecomers may go here for the beginning of this “seedy epic of modern-day Hollywood” -- J.J. Hunsecker, nationally syndicated columnist.)

Down in Culver City next day they screened Iggy’s first rough cut of Triggerwoman II.

Everyone was quiet after the lights came up. Iggy was sitting between their editor Maxine and their composer Lenny, two rows in front of where Harvey and Buddy and Debbie Greenberg and Heather all sat together. Iggy turned around.

“Shit,” he said. “It’s not bad.”

“I know,” said Buddy.

Fucking Iggy, he’d taken only a slightly-better-than-average Harvey/Buddy script and somehow made something original and good out of it, the little prick.

“It’s really good,” said Harvey.

“Except for the Ancient Mariner,” said Heather, and then she looked a little abashed because she’d mentioned the bad actor who’d stolen Buddy’s wife. “Well, anyway, this is the best thing we’ve ever done.”

“Let’s go have lunch,” said Harvey. “We need to talk about this. What about Mi Ranchito?”

“Ah, fuck, not Mexican, I had Thai last night,” said Debbie, “you’re gonna kill my sphincter.”

They rendezvoused at the Sagebrush Restaurant and Bar because it was nearby and because there was a chance they could get a big table on the patio where they could smoke. They accomplished this and ordered some drinks.

“Guys,” said Heather, “we can’t just toss this one out there.”

“Just what I was thinking, Heather,” said Buddy.

“What, it’s that good?” said Iggy. He was tired, he’d been up all night in the editing room, and out here in the L.A. daylight he looked pale and you could see the circles under his eyes. Maxine the editor always looked that way. She was an old vet who’d worked at Columbia for about a hundred years and she didn’t say much.

“Yeah, it’s that good,” said Harvey. “Whaddaya think, Lenny?”

Today had been Lenny’s first exposure to the movie. He hadn’t even read the script.

“Is great.” Lenny was from Russia, or from Odessa, anyway, if that was still part of Russia. “Is definitely not your usual shit. Is a like a cross between Jean-Pierre Melville and Sergio Sollima. But definitely modern; Iggy, you got your own style now.”

Not everyone there caught the Melville and Sollima references, but anyway --

“So, you got any ideas, comrade?” said Buddy.

“Oh, yeah, already I got ideas, but the ideas I got I gonna need a bigger music budget.”

“What the fuck?”

“I hear some orchestral shit. We gonna need maybe twenty, thirty pieces some parts, lotsa strings -- maybe more.”

“Can’t you just use a synthesizer, Lenny? You know, samples?” said Debbie.

“Sure we can, but then it sound like shit. You want it sound good, you get real fucking musicians.”

“Excuse me, maestro.”

“Maybe we can get some more money from Sony,” said Buddy, although that would be a first. (A subdivision of Sony financed Harvey and Buddy‘s pictures with pre-sales for the overseas theatrical rights.)

“We should take it to the festivals,” said Heather. “Do you think we could get Sony to take it to Cannes?”

“Deadline for Cannes is April first, honey,” said Debbie.

“Fuck,” said Heather.

“Well,” said Harvey, “we could still maybe show it at Cannes, even if it’s not in competition.”

“Wow,” said Iggy. “Fuckin’ Cannes. When is Cannes?”

“It’s like mid-May,” said Debbie. “I think you gotta have your print in on like the tenth of May.”

“Shit, we can make that,” said Iggy.

“All right, all right, we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little here,” said Buddy.

“But, Buddy,” said Heather, “this is not just another straight-to-video piece of shit, we gotta get the word out on it and get it into the theatres, and I mean domestic theatres, art houses, platform it --”

“We meet with Sony Wednesday,” said Deb. She put her hand on Buddy’s thigh.

“You guys have to convince them,” said Heather.

Now Debbie was lightly stroking Buddy’s thigh. What up with that?

The handsome waiter was there, laying out the drinks.

“Okay,” said Harvey. “First thing, we gotta really make it good.”

“I can make it better,” said Iggy. “I mean Maxine and Lenny and me can make it better.”

Old Maxine just sat there smoking a cigarette. She didn’t get excited by much.

“I know you can,” said Harvey. “All right, look, Lenny, get to work, don’t worry about the budget right now, work with Iggy and write the score you want to write, we’ll see about the budget later.”

“You wanta save money on the music budget, lose the piece-of-shit rock songs,” said Lenny.

“I wouldn’t mind that,” said Buddy. He gently removed Debbie’s hand from his thigh, but he gave it a little squeeze before letting it go, just to show he wasn’t a complete asshole. “What do you think, Ig?”

“I am so over piece-of-shit rock songs on the track,” said Iggy.

The waiter stood there smiling with his pad on the back of his cocktail tray.

“All right,” said Harvey, “let’s order and we’ll talk. I shouldn’t but I’m gonna have the meatloaf.”


This was Iggy.

“What?” said Bud.

“If only the fucking Mariner wasn’t in it!”

“Yeah, well, life is tough, kid,” said Harvey.

Buddy’s cellphone started buzzing away in his pocket. He took it out, and because it was his home number he flipped the phone open.

“Hey, Dad.”

“What up?”

“Dad, call Liz, she’s freaking out or something.”

“What, call her now? I’m eating.”

“Well, I’m telling you she’s freaking.”

“She’s in Milwaukee?”

“Yeah, she’s in Milwaukee.”

“All right, give me her number.”

“You don’t know her number?”

“I don’t know her number, that’s why I’m asking.”

“You need to learn how to program your cellphone, dude.”

“I will, now what’s the number?”

Buddy went out onto the sidewalk to make the call.


“Yeah, sweety, what’s going on?”

“What did Philip tell you?”

“He said you were freaking out.”

“I am not freaking out.”

“You sound freaked out.”

A male voice in the background told her to get off the fucking phone.

“Dad, I gotta go.”

Buddy didn’t say anything; a long second passed by.

Then the background voice yelled for her to hang the fucking phone up.

“All right,” said Buddy, “look, I’m coming out there, next plane.”

“No, it’s all right.”

“I’ll be there tonight.”

She or someone else hung up the phone.

Buddy stood there for half a minute and then he called the office and asked Marlene to get him on the soonest flight out to Milwaukee.

“Why are you going to Milwaukee?”

“I have to -- look, I just got to get to Milwaukee, okay, Marlene?”

“I only asked a civil question.”

Buddy took a breath, then let it out slowly.

“Hey, man,” she said, “is everything okay? Is Liz okay?”

“Um, I don’t know, Marlene. I don’t think so.”

“I’m sorry, Buddy. I’ll get right on it. First class, right? No connecting flight?”

This was Buddy. He hated to fly and if he had to fly he flew first class, preferably with no connecting flights, and with as many drinks as he could possibly cajole from the flight attendants, supplemented often with tranquilizers he would bum from friends.

“No, just get me the first flight you can and call me back. I’m gonna try and quick run home and get a bag and a change of clothes.”

“If you want I can pick you up and drive you to the airport.”

Buddy rarely drove his own car to the airport because after the return flight he was generally too incapacitated to drive it home.

“That’s all right, I think I’ll just take a cab.”

“I don’t mind picking you up, Buddy.”

“No, you better stay at the office.”

Buddy didn’t want to have to talk to Marlene, or to anybody.

(Continued here. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page for all other published episodes of Uncle Buddy’s House™, A Desilu Production starring Mike Connors as Buddy, and co-starring Gail Fisher as Marlene.)

Monday, September 7, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 162: “She laid her hand on me, and she moved through the fair…”

Our previous chapter ended with our memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his celestial friend “Josh” still in the process of trying to leave a somewhat disquieting little party in a weirdly large apartment above Cape May NJ’s happening hotspot the Pilot House (“Sway and Swing to The Soothing Sounds of Summer, with ‘Freddy Ayres and Ursula™’ -- as seen on WFIL TV’s ‘Chief Halftown’ Show!”) in the old port of Cape May, NJ, on this sultry Saturday night in August of 1963...

(Click here to go to the first chapter of this Gold View Award©-winning chef-d'œuvre, “Longer than the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita combined, and infinitely more rewarding than all of them.” -- Harold Bloom.

For a moment or two no one said anything else. I think we were all simply watching Magda walk away in her shimmering white gown. Halfway across that enormous room she began to look more like liquid than substance, and then as she moved even farther away she seemed more like mist than liquid.

She made a right turn into a far-off hall, and then she disappeared.

“Well, good night, everyone,” I said, touching Josh’s arm.

“Stay for another bowl, Arnold,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, his finger tamping a refill into the hashish pipe’s bowl. “What’s your damn hurry?”

“It’s Josh,” I said. “He really should go home.”

“Yeah, I entirely agree,” said Josh.

“Wait,” said Ursula, and she glided up from her seat with an amazing gracefulness for a woman of her years. She came over and stood before Josh, whose arm I still held. She had lit another cigarette in her black holder, and she held it up with one hand, smoke drifting from one dry and cracked corner of her scarlet mouth.

“Be careful with her, young fellow.”

“With Magda?” said Josh.

“Who else am I talking about? Jean Harlow maybe?” She put her free hand on Josh’s shirt. “Don’t f**k with her,” she said. “If you do I promise you, you’ll regret it.”

“Ha ha,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, “I’d listen to her if I were you, my good man!”

“What a dame,” said Mr. Jones, gazing at Magda admiringly and then lighting a cigarette with a Pilot House match.

“Now, Ursula,” said Freddy, from his seat, sipping his absinthe, “be nice. I’m sure we have nothing to fear from this nice gentleman.”

“Maybe not, Freddy,” said Ursula, still fingering the cloth of Josh’s shirt. “But he has something to fear, I tell you that.”

Josh took a drag of his Pall Mall

“I assure you I shall behave with perfect decorum towards your granddaughter,” he said.

She took her hand away from his shirt and gave him a slight tap on the cheek.

“No need to go too far,” she said. “No woman wants a perfect man. They may say they do but they lie. They want a man with just a soupçon of, of -- oh, my --”

Josh had taken her hand in his, and now he bowed his head and kissed it.

“You are some kind of charmer,” said Ursula.

“Good night, madame,” said Josh.

I pulled him along and away.

“Good night, everyone,” I said.

“Good night, fellas,” said Freddy.

“Now the party really begins,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“What a pair of lightweights,” said Mr. Jones. “Let’s put some more music on! How about some hot jazz?”

We made it to the stairhead, and I let Josh go first. As we went down we could hear the cackling laughter and badinage of the old people.

Josh stumbled on one step, I reached down and grabbed his arm, but then he waved his hand that he was okay, and continued on down.

At the bottom of the stairs, with his hand on the door knob, Josh turned to me.

“I’m in trouble, aren’t I?” he said.

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that, Josh.”

“Okay, fine. But if you had to say, just off the top of your head without thinking about it, if you had to -- am I in trouble, or not?"

“Yes,” I said.

“I’m in trouble,” he said.

He dropped his cigarette to the tiled floor, which was already well-littered with butts. He ground it out with the sole of his sandal. “Well, okay, let’s go.”

He opened the door and went out into the hallway, and I followed, shutting the door behind me.

Another song was on the jukebox now, a girl asking some boy to go out with her.

Just as Josh was about to leave the hallway and go out into the main part of the bar he stopped and held me back with his hand.

“Wait,” he said. “Step back.”

I went backwards a couple of steps and Josh came with me.

“All right,” he said. “Carefully -- carefully take one step and then lean forward and look down to the right, down at the end of the bar. Just a quick look.”

I did as he told me.

Down at the far end of the bar sat and stood, in order, Mrs. DeVore, seated, her husband Bob standing to her left, and to his left sat Miss Evans, with Jack Scratch seated next to her; standing in between Scratch and Miss Evans was St. Thomas. And standing between Miss Evans and Mr. DeVore was a tall dark handsome gentleman in an ash-colored suit. He had a moustache and very dark shiny hair.

“See that tall guy?” asked Josh.

“Yes, I said.

Josh pulled me back.

“The nerve of that guy.”

“Who is it?” I asked.

“He has other names,” said Josh. “But for our purposes, let’s just call him Lucifer.”

I had been afraid Josh would say something like that.

(Continued here, and indefinitely, if not infinitely. And kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find what one hopes is a listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, recently voted “most sublime memoir ever” by the Knights of Columbus, Olney Chapter, Philadelphia PA.)