Friday, October 30, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 171: the Cana gig

In our previous episode our hero Arnold Schnabel at long last dragged the slightly inebriated Josh back to his suite in Cape May’s lovely Chalfonte Hotel; Josh immediately passes out on the couch and Arnold is about to take his leave when who should then enter but a man with a trumpet-case who introduces himself as “Gabriel”...

(Click here to return to the first chapter of this Gold View Award©-winning memoir, which, in the words of that noted scholarly wag Harold Bloom, “would be the only book I should need or want were I ever to be shipped off to Guantanamo”.)

We shook hands over the coffee table.

“Josh never was much of a drinker,” he said.

He laid his case on the table, then reached a hand into his inside jacket pocket.

“You should have seen him at the marriage feast at Cana, man. A scream and a half.”

He brought out a thin hand-rolled cigarette, and with his left hand he brought up a slim gold lighter from his side jacket pocket. He lit the cigarette, drew in a long slow drag, held in the smoke with his eyes closed, and slowly exhaled, slowly opening his eyes. It wasn’t tobacco he was smoking.

“You want a toke, Arnold?”

“No, I’d better not,” I said.

“It’s good stuff, man. Mellow. Help you sleep.”

“Do you think so?”

“Yea, verily, I say unto you. And dig: no hangover.”

“Well –”

He was holding out the reefer. It did look inviting, especially considering the no-hangover factor.

“Well, maybe just a puff,” I said.

The next moment I remember as a moment we were sitting in wicker rocking chairs out on the balcony, although I had no clear memory of going out there nor of how much time had passed.

Jazz music played in the living room, the sort of jazz that Elektra and her friends listened to. Apparently Gabriel had put a record on.

“He had his load on,” Gabriel was saying.

In a mild panic I glanced at my watch, but its radium dial read only five past three; so it was okay, I’d only lost ten minutes or so. I could spare that.

“So the man comes up to Josh, and he’s like, ‘We’re sorry, sir, we’re out of wine. You dig?'”

I paused, mulling, and then said, “Yes, I dig.”

My words felt like large wads of bubble gum, but apparently Gabriel understood them.

“No, man, I know you dig. I mean the old cat at the wedding said ‘You dig’. Pass the joint, brother.”

I passed him the reefer.

“Wait,” I said. “I thought it was Mary who told Je-”

“’Josh’, man. Be cool. He wants to be called Josh down here.”

“Sorry. But I thought it was Mary who told Josh about the wine running out.”

Now my words seemed like bubbles from bubble gum, floating through the warm dark air, but again I was understood.

“Not true, man. It was the old cat, the father of the bride. Don’t believe everything the Bible tells you, Arnold. Half that shit is bogus. Two thirds. At least. Where was I?”

“The old man told Josh they were out of wine.”

“Right. Dig. So Josh pulls out his pouch, and, as usual, he’s loaded with shekels. He reaches his hand in, pulls out a fistful. ‘Here,’ he says, ‘send somebody down to the wine-merchant, and tell him to bring back the good stuff this time. None of this Mogen David shit either.’ But the old cat, father of the bride, dig, he says, ‘O Lord, you don’t understand, we’ve already bought out the wine-merchant. There is like no wine to be had in all of Cana. But that’s cool, O Lord, we can, you know, brew up some frankincense tea --” But Josh won’t hear of it, ‘cause he’s got his load on, dig, and now he’s got his load on he wants to keep it on. So he says, ‘That pitcher, bring it here.’ ‘That pitcher of water, O Lord?’ ‘Yes, that one.’ One of the man’s sons brings it over. Old Josh he just waves his hand over the mouth of that pitcher, then he picks up his goblet. ‘Okay,’ he says, ‘now pour me a drink.’ The boy picked up the pitcher, gave it a shake, and then filled Josh’s goblet with the smoothest red wine you’ve ever tasted.”

It seemed as if I should say something here, but I couldn’t think of anything. Perhaps if I had been given an hour or two I might have come up with something.

But Gabriel continued.

“The thing is, Josh just didn’t want to call it a night. You’ve seen him in action.”

“Yes,” I said.

“His first miracle,” said Gabriel. “Thing was, his father and the uh --”

“The Holy Ghost?”

“Well, he goes by the the Holy Spirit now, but, you’re right, back then it was the Holy Ghost. Anyway, they had all agreed, the three of them ahead of time: no miracles. They figured if mankind couldn’t get the message without parlour tricks then the hell with ‘em, dig?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“But Josh forgot, ‘cause he wanted that wine. And so, well, after that first miracle, you know, man, you gotta give the crowd what they want. And next thing you know it’s raising Lazarus from the dead, multiplying the loaves and fishes, walking on the water, you name it.”

I was trying to get the energy up to say my goodnight and leave, but I didn’t want to seem rude, or as if I didn’t appreciate getting all this inside information.

“Now you take the last supper,” said Gabriel.

He looked at me with narrowed eyes from under his porkpie hat. He seemed to want just a little response before going on.

“You were there?” I managed to ask.

Now my words looked like the dialogue balloons in a comic book, floating there above and to the side of my head.

Gabriel filled his lungs, then passed the reefer back to me.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, exhaling a great cloud of smoke that blew away my word balloons. “I was leading the band again that night, same as at the Cana gig. Now don’t get me wrong, ninety-nine nights out of a hundred Josh is the most steady cat you can imagine –one, maybe two glasses of wine – cool as ice, but every one-hundredth time, I don’t know, the pressures just get too much for him. And that supper was one of those times. He knew what was coming.”

“The crucifixion?”

“Dig. Imagine having that bulls**t hanging over your head.”

“I’m sure I would drink too,” I said.

“So he gets his load on, and then all of a sudden he points at Judas, and he says, like, ‘You, man, you. I thought you were my brother. How could you, man?’ Judas is just getting ready to stick a piece of bread in his mouth, and he’s like, ‘What?’ And Josh just goes, ‘You, man.’ The band was on break. You could’ve heard a pin drop. Judas just puts his piece of bread down, gets up, and walks out. Everybody thought Josh was just being drunk and paranoid. Turned out he may have been drunk but he wasn’t paranoid."

He reached into his inside jacket pocket again, and brought out a whiskey flask. He held it out in my direction, but I shook my head no, decisively. He shrugged, unscrewed the cap, took a drink. He re-capped the flask and put it away.

"And then," he said, "he starts talking about the bread being his body, the wine being his blood. And everybody’s just staring at him, like, ‘Man, what the hell are you talking about, brother, because you sure ain’t making any sense.’ You dig?”

“Do you mean do I dig?” I asked. “Or was that everyone asking the, uh, silent question to, uh –”

“That time I was asking you, Arnold.”


And now I forgot what the question was. I also didn’t care. But to be polite I told him I dug.

“Dig it,” he said. “Nobody knew what the hell he was talking about.”

I realized that I had been holding the reefer, and it was lit, but that I had not been smoking it. So I took a drag as Gabriel continued to talk. He had a very soothing voice, a gentle and rolling voice, and it seemed to flow in harmony with the jazz music and the warm night's breeze, the night sky, that enormous dark ocean out there...

And then I wondered, wasn’t this music keeping the other guests of the hotel up? I was thinking of suggesting to Gabriel that we turn the record off, or at least lower the volume, when he said, again:

“You dig?”

I didn’t want to admit that I hadn’t been paying attention, so again I said I dug.

“And so that was it, man,” he said. “The meaning of life, and of the whole universe. He said it just that once, and he made everyone there swear not to tell anyone and not to put it into the gospels. You won’t tell him I told you, will you?”

“No, no,” I said, and truer words I’ve never spoken.

“Thanks, man. I mean, it’s probably cool anyway, ‘cause I know he digs you.”

I stood up. The rocker I had been sitting in rocked against the back of my legs. The ocean beyond the rooftops moved like something breathing in the darkness, and the warm dark breeze smelled of the ocean. I remembered going over on the troop ship in 1943, standing on the deck at night, the ship and the whole convoy blacked out, I remembered looking out at the emptiness all around, this convoy of dark boats filled with human beings hell-bent on killing other human beings, I remembered wishing that I was back on the railroad, riding the trains back and forth through the countryside, and at the end of my trips going back to my mother’s house at B and Nedro by the factory. That was all I wanted then, just to go back to Olney and my job, to my mother and my neighborhood.

“You okay, man?” said Gabriel.

“Oh, sure,” I said. “But I should take off.”

“Sleep tight, man. I’m gonna sit out here and smoke some more of that joint if you’ll pass it over.”

I hadn’t realized I was still holding it. Oddly enough, even though I was pretty sure that we had been smoking it all this time, the reefer hadn’t burned down at all. I gave it to Gabriel.

We shook hands again.

“I’ll probably catch you tomorrow, man,” he said.

“So you’re staying here?”

“Oh, sure, I have my own room in there. It’s kind of my job, to keep an eye on Josh.”

“Okay. Well, good night, then,” I said.

“I’ll be jamming with those cats at the Mug again tomorrow night if you want to drop by.”

“Maybe I will,” I said.

“You know your way out?”

“Oh, sure.”

I went back in, Josh was still sound asleep on the couch. I made it to the door, and out.

Once I closed the door I noticed that the jazz music was no longer audible.

Like a ghost I floated down the stairs, through the lobby and down the front steps.

I turned up Howard. Soon I would be home, at last. It had certainly been an interesting day, but I was glad to bring it to a close.

I turned left on Columbia, turned right when I got to Stockton. The old town was finally quiet. They had probably thrown out the last of the revelers from Sid’s, from the Pilot House and the Ugly Mug and from the King Edward Room, perhaps even from Pete’s Tavern. Nearly everyone had drunk their fill and had finally collapsed into their beds if not into a convenient flower bed.

I turned left on Hughes, and a shuffling small figure made itself visible coming up the sidewalk from the other direction. It was too late to turn and run, or to jump behind a bush and hide. I continued forward, prepared for another demonic encounter, or as prepared as I could hope to be.

Fortunately it was only Buddy Kelly, someone I think I’ve mentioned in these pages before, but if I haven’t, then I’ll say he is a local fellow, a mechanic, somewhat troll-like in appearance, but an amiable-enough sort. It had been odd to find him in the company of Mr. MacNamara and Dick and Daphne and Steve at the VFW the night before last, but after all this is a democracy we’re living in, ostensibly, and those in the upper echelons of society are free to associate at will with those of the lower, although those of the lower do not enjoy the same freedom to associate at will with those above them.

“Arnold!” yelled Buddy, and he pumped my hand. His grip was powerful, despite his short stature, and he was quite drunk.

“Hello, Buddy,” I said.

“Damn, you look like s**t, Arnold.”

I had completely forgotten my scraped knees and elbow and hand. I’d also forgotten the pain attendant upon these contusions, but now that Buddy had brought attention to them I became aware again of the pain.

“Out on a spree?” he asked.

“That’s putting it mildly.”

“Ha ha!”

Did I mention he was smoking a cigar? Well, he was.

He wouldn’t stop shaking my hand, so I put my left hand on his right and managed to prize it away from mine.

“Well, good night, Buddy.”

“Wait! The major was looking for you, pal,” he said, as if pretending to give me a warning, or perhaps giving me a warning under the pretence of pretending to do so.

“Who is the major?” I asked.

“Major MacNamara.”

“Oh. Mr. MacNamara?”


“What did he want, do you know?”

“He wanted to know what you did with his daughter.”

“His daughter?”

“Daphne. His daughter.”

“Oh. Daphne.”

I flipped back through the chapters of my memory about four hundred pages, and finally hit on the appropriate passage.

“I left her at Pete’s Tavern,” I said. “But it was okay. She was with that old guy, Tommy?”

“Mrs. Biddle’s friend.”

“Right,” I said. “And they were with this nun, Sister Mary Elizabeth.”

“A nun, huh?”

“Yes,” I said. “But she was dressed in civilian clothes.”

“Well, that’s okay then. I mean priests go out in civvies some times, right?”

“That’s true,” I said. “In fact, come to think of it there was a priest in civilian clothes there, too.”

Why was I dragging Father Reilly into this? I didn’t have time to recount my entire night to Buddy. I needed my sleep.

“Who’s this joker?” said Buddy.

“Pardon me?”

Buddy pointed past me.

“That joker. He looks in worse shape than you do, Arnold.”

I turned. Halfway down the block but determinedly shambling toward us, dragging one leg, came Mr. Lucky, his ash-colored suit rumpled and torn, and a pale mist or smoke swirling up from his head and shoulders.

(Continued here, and well into the middle of the century at least.)

(Please look to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other published episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, deemed “acceptable, with reservations” by the Commissariat of Inspirational Literature.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 21: boom

Our hero Buddy Best has agreed to have dinner with the enigmatic Cordelia, the daughter of the Ancient Mariner, the preposterous ham actor whom Buddy’s wife Joan has run off with...

(Go here to see our previous chapter, or here to go to Chapter One of this “searing indictment of the loose morals that run rampant in contemporary Hollywood” (J.J. Hunsecker, in the Olney Times.)

Buddy got there first. He slipped the maitre d’ a twenty and got one of the good tables on the back patio.

Lou the owner came over to chat.

“You expecting a Mrs. Best?”

“No, not tonight, Lou. A young lady.”

“Ah, a young lady, sure.”

Lou smiled slightly and touched the wing of his nose with his finger.

“No, it’s not like that, Lou. Mrs. Best and I have separated. We’re getting divorced I think.”

“Oh? You sad?”



“No, just kidding, Lou. I’m okay, really. Hey, how about a glass of --”

“So this a young lady, she the reason you and Mrs. Best,
uh --”

“No, no, not at all.”

“Ah, but life a goes on, and now you have dinner with a nice young lady.”

“Right. Um, how about a --”

“Man not made to sleep with a just a one woman. Is bad for the health, I firm believe that. You look at me, Mr. Best, twenty-eight year I been married and I always got a girl on the side.” He slid his eyes back and forth around the room, as if to make sure he wasn’t being eavesdropped on by private detectives. Then he made a series of quick short jabs with his right fist. “Is natural. Good for man, good for woman.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right, Lou. Hey, ya know what I could go for --”

“I know I’m right. So why you get a divorce? Why don’t you just keep you young lady friend, and, you know --”

“Well, you’re not really following me here, Lou, this young lady was not my lady friend. She isn’t my lady friend. She isn’t why I’m getting divorced.”

“So why you getting divorced?”

“Well, I’d really rather not get into it now, Lou, it’s kind of complicated. Hey, do you think you could get me a glass of wine? Something white to start, a little Frascati maybe --”

“Sure -- so you wife she leave you for anudder mudderfucker?”

“Uh, yeah, Lou, she did.”

“She didn’t!”

“Well, no, she did --”

Porco dio!

“So, you know, if not a Frascati, maybe --”



“Mudderfucker. Any man who sleep with another man wife.”

“Well, you know, it happens, Lou --”

Lou slid his eyes side to side again, looking for the detectives. Then he leaned forward and down toward Buddy, who had rarely wanted a glass of wine more than he did at this exact moment.

“You know I know people, Mr. Best.”


“I know people who know people.”

“Pardon me?”

“You like I get this guy’s legs broke for you. Cheap. Like a couple hundred bucks. Hundred bucks a leg.”

“No, that’s okay, Lou.”

“I mean it.”

“I’m sure you do. But, really, I’m -- I’m bearing up.”

Lou pursed his lips and nodded his head a few times.

“You doin’ the best thing. Dinner with nice young lady --”

He slid his eyes around the room again, then once more made a quick series of short jabs with his fist.

“Boom," he said. "Boom."

“So,” said Buddy, “how about that Frascati?”

“I get you a nice Avellino,” said Lou. “Is better.”

After only five minutes the glass of wine came and it wasn’t cold enough but it was wine. Some irritating song by Sting played and Buddy sipped his wine and looked around at all the other assholes who obviously had too much money to spend or else they wouldn’t be here. There were a few big shots: like Richard Gere, whom Buddy had met once on the Sony lot; Buddy gave him an index-finger salute and Gere waved back, although Buddy would have bet his house that Gere didn’t have the slightest fucking idea who he was. Tony Scott; a couple of years back at some party Buddy had had a chat about spaghetti westerns with him, but Scott was deep into a confab with a young actor whose name Buddy couldn’t quite summon -- Stephen Dorff? Skeet Ulrich? Buddy did the reciprocal-wave thing with Tom Rothman, who had been his boss for a few months back in the early 90s; Rothman was there with some agent and what Buddy thought might be a novelist guy he had seen for a few minutes on Charlie Rose once, Dave Eggers or David Foster Grant or whatever the hell his name was...

And, ah, someone Buddy actually knew to talk to, good old Bill Shatner, looking tanned and fit, sitting with what looked like a table of out-of-towners. Buddy went over to say hi. Shatner wasn’t a bad sort -- and besides, if they couldn’t get Delon or Lambert or Franco Nero, he just might be good for that head bad-guy part in their untitled August project. Sure enough, Bill asked Buddy when he was going to give him some work again, and Buddy asked Bill when he was going to lower his asking price. Bill introduced the yokels; they were his relatives from Canada. Buddy told Bill he’d stay in touch, then he said his wine was getting warm (or warmer, he should have said), told the relations it was nice meeting them, and went back to his table.

Okay, he’d done his little B-list schmoozing. He knew Bill Shatner, look out.

Buddy sat there, a middle-aged Hollywood hack, surrounded by other Hollywood hacks and the jackals of the hacks, and the jackals of the jackals -- what the fuck was he doing here? Oh, right. Waiting for the nut-bird to show up. And twenty minutes later he was regretting he hadn’t brought a book -- and trying and failing to catch the eye of someone who might possibly bring him another glass of wine, or, better still, a bottle -- when Lou himself -- not the maître d’ -- brought out this curvy brunette in a shiny pale green dress and an unbuttoned off-white cardigan and carrying an enormous shiny black purse in both hands, and Buddy thought, Okay, now that little number I wouldn’t mind waiting for, and then he realized he was doing just that, as Lou delivered her to his table with a sweep of his hand.

“I’m so sorry I’m late. I got off at the wrong stop. Thank you so much.”

The last sentence was to Lou, who was old-schoolishly pulling her chair out for her. And Buddy saw Lou glance down her décolletage as she sat down. And he didn’t blame him. Taking off and putting away his glasses to see better Buddy saw that her dress left uncovered almost one-third of her bosom, which was not only larger and more shapely than what he would have expected if he had thought about it at all beforehand, which he hadn’t -- but then again it had pretty much been hidden by that modestly-tailored potato sack the one other time they had met -- but which, if he was any judge, and Buddy considered himself a judge, was also -- amazingly for the circles Buddy moved in, amazing for L.A., really, and amazing anyway -- real.

Buddy had stood up, he was old-school too, and now he sat down again, forcing himself to look not at her body but at her face, which was magically resolving into that of the daughter-of-the-Mariner chick from a few months back, but with make-up and red lipstick.

She was beautiful.

Who knew?

(Continued here.)

(Please look to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other available episodes of Uncle Buddy’s House™, a Selmur Production. Minors must be accompanied by actual parent or legitimate guardian.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 170: fut. perf.

Let us rejoin our nimble-witted hero Arnold Schnabel, who has just vanquished the dark lord “Mr. Lucky” in the men’s lavatory of the King Edward Room, in Cape May’s lovely Chalfonte Hotel, on this warm night in August of 1963...

(Click here to go to our previous chapter, or here to read the beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning memoir, which, in the words of the noted scholar Harold Bloom “wreaks havoc with all our notions of time and space and sanity, but in a possibly beneficial way”.)

I turned and continued toward the door and through the minutes and the hours, his shouting and cursing voice fading into the past behind me.

Before pulling open that door I took a last deep breath of that close men’s room air, its stench of scorched flesh; and, closing my eyes, I tried to concentrate on the time I wanted to be in.

Opening my eyes I opened the door, and glancing back just one more time at the now empty lavatory, I went out into the hall.

There was Josh at the end of the bar, hunched over his drink, a cigarette between two fingers of his right hand. A lot of other people were still in the bar but Marootha and Bethimba were gone, and so also were myself and Dick Ridpath down at the other end of the bar.

I went over and sat down next to Josh, who jerked his head up suddenly. I think he had been dozing.

“Oh, hi, Arnold. I was beginning to wonder what was taking you so long. I ordered just one more Old Fashioned, hope you don’t mind.”

“No, I don’t mind,” I said. I took a sip of the drink I’d left at my spot. It had gotten considerably diluted from the melted ice, but that was okay. “So, the ladies left,” I said.

“What ladies?” said Josh.

“The two ladies who were just sitting there next to you.”

In their place were sitting two dapper young men in summer suits.

“Ladies,” said Josh.

“Yes," I said.

"What kind of ladies?"

"Blond ladies?"

“Arnold," said Josh, "there weren’t any ladies sitting next to me. I’m not that drunk. It’s just been these two fellows,” he said, in a quieter voice, so they couldn’t hear.

“Oh,” I said. “Uh, let me ask you a question, did we see me and my friend Dick Ridpath down at the end of the bar there?”

“What the bloody hell are you talking about?”

I took another sip of the watered-down drink.

He stared at me.

“All right, Arnold, what happened? In the parlance of our Miss Magda: the beans. Spill them.”

Briefly I filled him in on what had occurred since we had entered the bar not ten minutes ago, or, depending on how you looked at it, two nights ago.

“Amazing,” he said, finally. He stubbed out his Pall Mall. “So you just left him there. Lucifer.”

“Or Mr. Lucky,” I said.

“Man of a thousand names. Stuck two days in the past.”

“Let’s hope so,” I said.

“This is slightly disturbing,” he said.

“That’s one way of putting it,” I said.

“No, I mean it’s really disturbing from my point of view. I’m starting to feel less omniscient and omnipotent by the second.”

“Unless I’m just imagining it all.”

“There’s one way to find out. What’s the bartender’s name again? Larry?”

“Jerry,” I said.

Josh turned away toward the bar, but Jerry was already standing there.

“May I help you, Josh?” he asked.

“Yes. Jerry, this might seem like an odd question, but were my friend and I in here two nights ago?”

“Of course, sir.”

He said this smiling, but with a question in his voice, as if worried that somehow he had unknowingly done something wrong.

“We were,” said Josh.

“Yes, sir. You were sitting in these same two seats.”

“Okay,” said Josh. “And were there two ladies sitting next to us?”

“Yes, I believe there were, Josh. In fact, well, I suppose perhaps you fellows did have a slight overabundance of Old Fashioneds if you don’t remember --”

“Remember what?”

“Well, you and your friend -- Arthur?”

“Arnold,” corrected Josh.

“You and Arnold left with these ladies. Heh heh.”

Josh took a drink of his Old Fashioned, then shook the ice around in his glass.

“Blondes?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. Quite handsome ladies they were, too.”

“Oh. Okay.” Josh drank some more of his drink. “Now this one’s a long shot -- Jerry?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Jerry, do you also happen to remember a couple of other guys sitting down at the other end of the bar there, and one of them looked like my friend Arnold here?”

“Now that you mention it there was a gentleman who bore a certain resemblance, although I didn’t notice it at the time. Quiet fellow. A little --”


“A little nondescript.” Well, thanks a lot, Jerry, I thought. “Would you like another drink, Josh?” he asked.

“I’m fine, Jerry, thanks.”

I wanted to ask Jerry for that large seltzer water I had never gotten, but he was already walking away. Josh waited till he was out of earshot, and then turned to me.

“This is really flipping my lid, Arnold.”

“Don’t feel bad, Josh,” I said. “You had had quite a lot to drink that night.”

“But that night was this night.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

“Oh my God.”


“What if I did something with one of those women?”


“Maybe you did too.”

“I doubt that,” I said.


“I wasn’t that drunk, Josh.”

“Oh my God, were they that bad?”

“Not in the physical sense,” I said.

“Oh no.”

“Not that I’m anyone to be critical,” I said.

He finished off the last of his Old Fashioned, and put down the stubby glass.

Up to then it had been me doing all the deep sighing, but now Josh sighed, deeply.

“You know, Arnold,” he said, “I really think I need to go to bed.”

“That’s probably a good idea,” I said.

“Oh, but you hardly touched your drink,” he said.

“That’s okay, Josh, I really didn’t want it. Let’s get you to bed.”

I stood up and patted him on the shoulder.

Josh got off his stool and swayed backward, but since my hand was already on his shoulder I was able to steady him.

“Woops. Oh, wait, let me pay for these,” he said.

He reached his hand into his pocket.

Jerry was magically standing there again.

“What do I owe you, Harry, I mean Jerry?”

“Oh, on the house, Josh.”

“Jerry,” said Josh. He had pulled out a wad of his seemingly inexhaustible crisp new twenties, he peeled one off and laid it on the bar. “Thanks for taking care of us, Jerry.”

“Oh, sir --” Jerry pushed the twenty toward Josh. “That’s way too much.”

“Buy your kids some treats,” said Josh. “Let’s go, Arnold.”

He staggered away toward the exit.

I looked at Jerry and shrugged.

“Good night, sir,” he said, taking the twenty and folding it.

“Good night,” I said.

I confess I wondered if I would get free drinks myself if I came in here without Josh.

I caught up with him in the lobby.

“I’m good from here, Arnold. You go home.”

“I’ll just see you safely to your room, Josh.”

“Oh, a chair. I think I’ll just sit a while.”

He was referring to a rather comfortable-looking wicker armchair with a green corduroy seat cushion.

I grabbed his arm.

“No, Josh, let’s get you to bed.”

This wasn’t entirely easy, and I won’t bore myself or the scholars of the future with the details, just suffice it to say about five minutes later I had Josh outside his room on the second floor. He got his key out, dropped it to the floor. I picked it up and unlocked the door, opened it, and let Josh step through. I followed him, then turned and closed the door.

Josh had left all the lights on. The way this night was going I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a palatial suite of rooms, but Josh’s accommodations proved to be reasonably modest, although still not what one would have expected at an old “family” sort of place like the Chalfonte. There was a living room, with a wooden TV-and-Hi-Fi console, a brown leather couch, a glass-topped coffee table with some magazines and newspapers on it, a few wicker arm chairs. Off to one side was a dining table, and beyond that a kitchenette with a little bar and some high stools. There were paintings of what looked like jazz musicians on the walls, the players in elongated black silhouettes against backgrounds of blue and green and red, with black musical notations flying around the musicians like birds.

French windows were opened onto a balcony, looking out toward the ocean a few blocks away, and translucent white curtains stirred in the soft warm breeze that smelled of seashells.

The door to a bedroom was open, and the lights were on in there also. I could see a big four-poster bed, unmade, with some clothes strewn on it.

I heard a soft sort of sound. I turned, and Josh was lying sprawled out prone on the couch, his face turned toward the back of the couch, one arm trailing to the floor.

I walked over.

“Josh? Hey, buddy, let’s get you to bed.”

He was out cold, breathing deeply through his mouth.

Oh, well, he seemed to be comfortable enough.
I had done enough for one night.
Then I heard another sound behind me, that of a key in a lock. I turned. A Negro man had opened the door.

“Oh, hello,” he said. “I was wondering why the door wasn’t locked.”

He pocketed his key. Under one arm he had a black musical-instrument case.

“You must be Arnold,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

“I’m Gabriel.”

He closed the door. He wore a sharkskin suit, a porkpie hat.

“I was just down at the Ugly Mug, jamming with those cats. How’s Josh doing?”

“Sound asleep,” I said.

“Good old Josh.”

He came over, extending a hand.

(Continued here.)

(Kindly refer to the right hand side of this page for a list of links to all other available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s
Railroad Train To Heaven©, recently short-listed for the Regis & Kelly Book Club.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 20: disturbing

In our previous episode, our hero Buddy Best found himself talking on the telephone to none other than Cordelia, the daughter of the dreaded Ancient Mariner, the man who stole Buddy’s wife away...

(Those who have arrived late to the party may click here to go to the first chapter of this “this hard-hitting melodrama of the lurid lower depths of La-la Land” -- J.J. Hunsecker, in The Reader’s Digest.)

A slight pause. Then --

“So, how are you?” said Buddy. “Make any cheese puffs lately?”


“Okay,” he said. “So, um, uh, is your father --“

“They’re still in France. In Brittany.”

“Right. Good old Bretagne. In his little, uh, whatchamacallit --"

“-- chaumière.


“By the sea. That he goes to every year.”

“Yeah. With the well.”

“Except he couldn’t get the chaumière this early so they’re staying in a hotel.”

“Oh. Well, I, uh, hope it’s a quaint hotel.”

“Oh, you can be sure of that,” she said, and Buddy was just about to say, well, okay, nice talking to you, when she suddenly said, “How are you?”



“Um, I’m okay --”

“Good,” she said, sounding pensive. And then even more pensively, or maybe just psychotically, “Good.”

“Well, uh --“


“Um -- well, when they get back, uh, just tell ‘em I called.”

“Right. I sure will.”

“Okay -- so --”

“Mr. Best --”


“Listen, I’m sorry if I was weird that night at my father’s party, but I wasn’t having a very good time at all, and plus I felt a little weirded-out talking to you --”

“Weirded-out? Why? I’m a nice guy.”

“I know, but it was just, just --”


“Just --”

“Because you knew about my wife and your father?”

“Yeah. It was -- weird,” she said, the weird sliding up and down over two syllables.

“Yeah, well --”

Stop it!” she yelled.

“Stop what?”

“Sorry, I was talking to the stupid cat. He was scratching the sofa.”


“I should just let him scratch it. I hate this house.” Pause. “I suppose you hate it too.”

“I -- don’t know that I hate it,” said Buddy.

“You don’t live here.”

“That’s true.” He could hear her breathing. “Well -- look, uh --” what was her name -- “Cordelia -- I’ll, uh --”

He ran out of words, and she also said nothing. He hadn’t really thought about her since that night of the Mariner’s party -- he was remembering her serious face with those big dark eyes, and that odd feeling of familiarity, and now he was having some sort of déja vu, except he didn’t know exactly what he was déja vu-ing --

“What are you doing?” she said.

“Doing?” Déja vu-ing? “Right now? Besides talking to you?”


“Just sitting here by my pool, drinking a beer.”

“Cool. You have a pool.”

“Yeah, it’s nice.”

“Do you swim in it much?”

“Well, not as much as I should. But I try.”

“That’s great.”

“Yeah. Just trying to hold off the inevitable.”

“What’s that?”

“Decrepitude. Senility. Death.”

“That’s -- great,” she said.

“Uh-huh. What are you doing?” said Buddy.

“I was reading.”

“Great. What are you reading?”

What Maisie Knew? By Henry James?”

“Ah, good old Henry,” said Buddy. “Hank the Tank.”

“Do you like him?”

“Well, I never actually got around to reading any of his books --”

“I like them.”


A slight pause.

“Isn’t it weird how people always say everything is great all the time?” she said.

“Yeah,” said Buddy. “It’s great.” She didn’t laugh. “Okay, so --”


“All right --”


“Pardon me?”

“Wait,” she said.


He waited, sitting there in his damp bathing trunks, holding the phone to his ear. Ming had gotten out and was stalking through the newly trimmed-down garden. Buddy became aware of the humming of the freeway, the humming which of course was always there more or less, unless traffic was completely jammed up, in which case other sounds --

“Okay, sorry,” she said. “Never mind.”


“You think I’m weird.”

“Not at all.”

“Yes you do.”

“Well, yeah. But that’s okay.”


“Yeah,” said Buddy.

“Okay. Well -- I’ll tell them you called, when I hear from them.”

“Gr- good. So -- you don’t know when they’re getting back?”

“No. My father likes to keep things mysterious.”

“Right. Well --”

“Okay, then,” she said.

“I’ll see ya.”

“’Bye,” she said.

“‘Bye,” he said, but she’d already hung up.

Buddy pressed the off button, and stared at the pool water.

The phone rang again, and this time Buddy had a feeling it really was the weirdo who’d called earlier.

“Hello,” he said, coldly, ready to rip the creep a new asshole.

“It’s me,” she said. “Cordelia. Sorry.”

“Oh. Hi. What’s up?”

“Listen --”

He listened. To the sound of her breathing?

The freeway hummed like -- a freeway?

“There’s something I would like to talk to you about,” she said.



“Okay, go right ahead.” She didn’t go right ahead. “Cordelia?”

“I don’t know if I can get into this on the phone,” she said.

“Afraid the lines are tapped?”


“Is it something about Joan and your father?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Oh, forget it.”

“Well, okay.”

Another pause, and then, very quickly:

“Are you free for dinner tonight?” she said. And then, right away, “Oh, what am I saying, you don’t want to have dinner with me. But maybe we could meet for some coffee, or, I mean, if you’d like to have some coffee. Or -- a drink? Or --”

“Oh, dinner would be cool,” Buddy heard himself saying.

“Are you sure?”

“Uh, yeah --”

“’Cause we don’t have to.”

“Well, that’s true.”

“So, would you rather just meet for a drink, or a --”

“Well, no, as I said, dinner would be fine.”



“Well, only if you’re sure.”

Buddy was getting less sure but he said he was definitely sure.

"I’ll pay my own way,” she said. “I mean, we could eat somewhere cheap -- or -- oh, but you probably like nice places. I mean, not-cheap places.”

“Actually, I prefer cheap places.”


"Yeah. I mean, fancy restaurants, sometimes the food’s pretty good, but the over-all experience, you know, you just feel a little -- sullied, somehow. Or at least I do."


“So where ya wanta go?”

“I don’t know. I hardly ever go out to dinner. We could go someplace near where you live. You’re in Hollywood, right? I mean it’s my idea, so -- but then, if you didn’t want to -- or -- I mean if there’s some place you --“

Buddy suspected that this was one of those conversational threads that could easily go on for hours, so he said:

“Okay, right off the top of your head, what’s your favorite type of food?”


“Okay --”

“No, French. No. Italian?”

“Cool --”


“Okay, great. I mean, good.” Right down the street from Buddy’s house there was Mama Maria’s, which was simple and reasonable and also very good, and he really liked it there, but he found himself saying, “There’s this place called Locanda Luigi I haven’t been to in a while.”

“Oh -- but that’s expensive isn’t it? I mean, I’ve never been there, but --”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s on me.”

“Oh, no --“

“Okay, look, you know your way around Hollywood?”

“Well, sort of --“

He told her where the joint was, and after only a little more nonsense he was able to press the button. He sat there finishing his beer and thinking about it all and then Deirdre came out of the house with what must have been her friend Trish. They both carried backpacks slung over one shoulder, and they both wore shorts and skimpy tops, which seemed okay for Deirdre but a little disturbing in Trish’s case, who looked like a small but fully-developed and slightly world-weary twenty-four-year-old.

“Oh, there you are, Uncle Bud. Uncle Buddy, Trish and I are gonna lay out and do homework now, and then we thought later we could watch movies.”

“Okay, great,” said Buddy. “I mean good.”

“Good but not great?”

“Hi, Mr. Best.”

Jarringly she had a sixteen-year-old voice.

“Hi, Trish. So, your parents know you’re here, right, Trish?”

“My mom does.”

“Trish’s parents are divorced, Uncle Buddy.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“Do you want us to make dinner for you?”

“No, I’ll be going out, sweety. You guys want take-out, I’ll spring for it.”

“Sure,” said Deirdre.

“Sure,” said Trish.

“Okay, I’ll leave some bread on the kitchen table for you.”

“You rock, Uncle Buddy.”

“Oh yeah.”

Buddy got up and went into the house, successfully combating the urge to look back at Trish.

(Continued here, on the off chance that a plot might develop.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find a perhaps up-to-date listing of links to all other published episodes of Uncle Buddy’s House™, a Jonathan Shields Production.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 169: Mr Lucky

In our previous episode of this Gold View Award™-winning memoir our hero Arnold Schnabel -- having seen himself chatting with a friend in the King Edward Room of Cape May’s lovely Chalfonte Hotel -- has beaten a hasty retreat to the men’s room, where his predicament is only deepened by the sudden appearance of the Prince of Darkness himself...

(Newcomers may go here to read the first chapter of this multi-volume masterpiece. “The only desert island book you’ll ever need.” -- noted critic Harold Bloom, in Woman’s Domain.)

What was it with these infernal creatures and men’s rooms? For that matter what was it with men’s rooms? It seemed as if I had spent a quarter of my night in these foul chambers. No, what am I saying? It was more like a quarter of my entire life, half a lifetime’s worth of my waking hours wasted either heading to or escaping from lavatories. It was enough to make you never want to leave the house. Not that I was safe even in the bathroom of my aunts’ house, as I had learned all too well. Perhaps I should just go in the bushes from now on. How bad could that be? You didn’t hear dogs and cats complaining.

The above thoughts and a dozen more flickered by in the space of two seconds, after which the smiling man said:

“So, at last we meet, Arnold. My name is Lucky.”

“That’s not what I heard,”

“Heh heh. Call me Lucky anyway.”

“Yeah, well, Lucky, I have to go,” I said and I made to step around him.

He side-stepped, moving directly in front of me. He was still smiling, and he took a puff of that fat and rather foul-smelling cigarette. (I think it was French.)

“Oh, please don’t go yet, Arnold. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“Oh. From Jack Scratch?”

“No other. He’s most upset. Afraid I’ll demote him for failing with you.”

“Demote him?”

“Oh, yes. He’s terrified, poor fellow.”

“I didn’t know you could go any lower than being a devil,” I said.

“Oh, there’s always another level down, I assure you.”

“Well, don’t be too hard on him. He gave it a good try. Now I really have to go.”

“Oh no you don’t.”

“Oh. You’re going to stop me?”

“Yes. And you wouldn’t be the first human being I’ve dragged screaming hellward to the eternal flames. You are in a state of mortal sin, you know. Don’t think I wasn’t watching you with your friend Astra in that hallway just a couple of hours ago.”

“Elektra,” I said.

“Pardon me?”

“Her name is Elektra.”

“Well, whatever the hell her name is – it really doesn’t matter, you’re in a state of mortal sin.”

It was true, he had me there.

“But don’t I have to be dead first?”

“That can be so easily arranged, my friend. A quick judo maneuver on my part and you’re just another silly drunken fool who’s slipped on the tiles and smashed his skull on the sink. Happens every day.”

I have to say he looked pretty formidable. Even his diminutive minion Jack Scratch had exhibited what could quite literally be called supernatural puissance. Even though I had been on the boxing team in the army, I doubted that this Lucky fellow followed the Queensberry rules, and if he was really expert at judo I would probably be a twenty-to-one underdog in a fight. I wished I had paid more attention in that unarmed-combat course I had sleepwalked through in the army.

Once again I would have to think quickly and act decisively.

“I wonder if we could make a deal,” I said.

“I was hoping you would say that, Arnold.”

Leaving his cigarette between his lips he took a scroll out from the inside of his suit jacket. It looked like the same one that Jack Scratch had tried to get me to sign earlier in the men’s room of the Ugly Mug.

“I’m pleasantly surprised that you’re being so sensible,” he said.

“Well, I might as well be – if you’re going to drag me down to hell if I don’t sign your little contract there.”

“Your logic is unassailable, Arnold. Believe me, once you sign this document you’ll be joining a most impressive panoply of humanity from all through the ages down to the present day (or night as the case may be): popes and potentates, princes and princesses, most of your own country’s presidents as well as dozens of senators and congressmen –”

He gave the scroll a flick and it unfurled. It had the same sort of strange handwriting all over it as the contract Jack Scratch had tried to get me to sign.

“I hope you’ll still give me a good deal,” I said.

“How’s seven years good luck sound?”

“Jack Scratch offered me some much better bargains than that.”

“Mr. Scratch was desperate. Seven years is standard, trust me.”

“Make it thirty,” I said.

“Thirty? You are greedy, aren’t you?”

“Well, I figure I’ll be seventy-two then, you know, ready to die anyway…”

He smiled, shaking his head.

“Even Adolph Hitler didn’t ask for thirty, Arnold.”

“That’s what I’m asking,” I said.

He pursed his lips and stared at me with his dark eyes through his cigarette smoke. As foul as that smoke was I would gladly have taken one had he offered it. Which he didn’t.

But all the while I was thinking that in movies and books people were always meeting the Devil, and sometimes they outsmarted him. So unless those stories were mere propaganda I still might have a chance.

Finally he smiled, then shook his head again.

“I’ll grant you this, Arnold, you’ve got chutzpah. All right, we’ll make it thirty.”

He took a quill pen out from inside of his jacket. It was a nicer one than the one Jack Scratch had, with black shiny feathers.

“Nice pen,” I said.

“Isn’t it? From a black swan. Okay, if you will be so kind as to hold out your arm, we’ll need just a few drops of your life’s blood.”

“You’ll make the change about the thirty years’ good luck?”

“Of course.”

“Well, I’d prefer if you write it in first.”

“Oh, okay.”

He poked the quill into the inner wrist of his left hand. A pearl of black blood emerged from his pale skin, and the nib of the quill sucked it up.

“Here, turn around if you don’t mind,” he said. “Just want to use your back for a desk.”

“Sure,” I said, and I did as he asked.

I felt him hold the thick paper against my back, felt some quick scribbling through the thick paper and the thin cloth of my polo shirt. It felt as if a rat were scrabbling at my back.

“Okay, you can turn around now,” he said, and I did.

“You can read it over,” he said. “But I assure you it’s all in order. Oh, you do read medieval church Latin, don’t you?”

“After a fashion,” I lied. “I’m a little rusty, but let me take a look at it.’

“Of course, take your time.”

I took the sheet and pretended to read it, nodding my head. I hated the way the paper felt, like the dry skin of an old person.

“I assure you, this is the standard boiler-plate, Arnold. And, right there,” he touched one part of the paper with the quill, “you can see I’ve amended seven to thirty, ‘triginta’. No tricks, no fine print. All in order.”

“All right,” I said. “I guess it looks okay. Oh, but what about the date?”

“The date’s not necessary, Arnold. We’re dealing in eternal matters here.”

“I’d still prefer it if you put the date on.”

“Christ --”

“And you should sign it, too.”

“I sign it after you sign it, Arnold.”

“I’d prefer if you sign first.”

“Jesus Christ. Al Capone didn’t give me this much trouble.”

I said nothing, holding out the contract.

“Oh, all right,” he said, taking the paper, “turn around again.”

I did so, and once again I felt that rat-like scrabbling between my shoulder blades.

“All right.” he said. “Done.”

I turned and once again he gave me the sheet.

“Right there at the top,” he said “’undecem --’”

“Oh, eleven, right?”

“Yes, because it’s after midnight. Eleventh of August. And there’s my John Hancock at the bottom.”



“Okay, Lucifer --

“Please, call me Lucky. On earth I like to go by Lucky.”

“Mr. Lucky.”

“Lucifer sounds so pretentious. And Satan is so sinister.”

“True,” I said. “But here’s the problem, Mr., uh, Lucky?”

“Just call me Lucky. All my friends do. And I hope we’ll be friends now.”

“Here’s the problem, Lucky. It’s not August the eleventh. In fact it’s August the ninth, I believe.”

“I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Arnold.”

“No, I’m not. Because I have gone back in time two nights. And apparently I’ve dragged you along with me. If you want proof, just look out the door and down to the end of the bar there. You’ll see me with my friend Dick Ridpath, two nights ago.”

“But that’s not possible.”

“Oh, yes it is. This document is inaccurately dated, and, therefore, meaningless.”

I crumpled it up, and, aiming carefully, I tossed it into a urinal, at the bottom of which it burst into flame, giving off a distinct smell of burning flesh.

He put the quill back into his jacket.

He looked very serious. But then he took a drag of his cigarette and smiled.

“It looks as if we’ll have to do this the hard way, then.”

“I don’t think so, Mr. Lucky.”

“And why is that? I hope you don’t think you can take me in a fair fight?”

“I don’t have to,” I said. “Because I’m leaving you here.”

“Where? In this men’s room?”

“In August the ninth,” I said. “I’m leaving you two days behind me. See if you can catch up.”

“You’re mad.”

“So I’ve been told. Goodbye, Lucky,” I said. I stepped to the side, to his left, and he tried to put his hand on my arm.

His hand went right through my arm and came out the other side.

“Shit,” he said.

I could feel myself moving forward in time. But now was the tricky part. I didn’t want to overshoot and go too far into the future, and I also didn’t want to go not far enough and wind up at yesterday morning, or, even worse, the morning of my present day, and have to go through that awful nicotine-withdrawal fit again.

“Come back,” he said. “Don’t leave me here.”

I looked back. He was fading away, like a shadow disappearing in the bright men’s room light.

“Good luck,” I said, “Mr. Lucky.”

(Continued here, because it’s too late to turn back now. Please look to the right hand column of this page to find an absurdly long list of links to all other available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. An Ambrose Wolfinger Production. Nihil Obstat, Bishop John J. “Big John” Graham, SJ.)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 19: “...and dance, like nobody’s watching...Ciao.”

Our hero Buddy Best has entered a new stage in his life. A batch of concurrent personal calamities has resulted in both his son Philip and his daughter Liz rejoining Buddy and his stepdaughter Deirdre in the familial Hollywood manse only recently vacated by Deirdre’s mother, Buddy’s wife Joan, who has run off on a romantic interlude in France with her lover, the despised ham actor known as the Ancient Mariner...

(Go here to see our previous chapter, or click here to see the beginning of this “seething, sultry, sex-soaked soaper” -- J.J. Hunsecker, in The Ladies’ Home Companion.)

A few days later Philip showed Buddy his new work on Return To Death Island Part III. It was good. They worked together on it one more day and that was pretty much it. Buddy told Philip that he was going to give him a screen credit and the Writer’s Guild minimum for a polish (less what he had already paid him) and Philip was happy.

In the meantime Liz cleaned up the house and the garden, but something had to be done about her stuff in Milwaukee. All her clothes, her stereo, her books, etc. Philip offered to help her move the stuff back home, and the day after he and Buddy finished the script Philip flew out to Milwaukee with Liz.

Harvey and Buddy had a talk after Harvey read the Death Island III rewrite. Harvey had a few minor suggestions, all of which Buddy agreed to, and --

“You’re on a roll, pal,” said Harvey. “It’s great. Even better than Triggerwoman II.”

“Thanks. Philip deserves a lot of credit, too.”



“I had this wild idea.”


“We’re all agreed Triggerwoman II is too good to just be another sequel.”


“So what we should do is make it a stand-alone pic, with a new title.”

“Why didn’t I think of that?”

“But wait, it gets better. What also I think we should do is make Return to Death Island Part III not a sequel to Return to Death Island Part II but a sequel to the as-yet-to-be-renamed Triggerwoman II.

Buddy needed two seconds to take this in, and then he said, “Good idea.”

“I mean, it could work. The characters aren’t that much different. You got the ballsy but sexy tough girl, the raffish soldier-of-fortune guy -- and I’m pretty sure we can get Sally and Milt to play the leads again.”

“Right, right, all we gotta do is tweak it a little and change the names.”

“Y’know what else I’m thinking, Buddy, we get some good buzz from Triggerwoman II or whatever we’re calling it we just might get a mil or two more from Sony for this next one.”

“That’d be cool. I’d love to use some of that for our above-the line talent.”

“Dig it,” said Harvey. “Get a really cool heavy this time.”

“Just what I was thinking,” said Buddy.

“Who ya got in mind?”

“If we get some more dough? Shit, I’d fucking love like -- you know who I’d love? The guy’s supposed to be foreign, right? Fuckin’ Alain Delon.”

“Love that guy. Or like Franco Nero?”

“Very cool,” said Buddy. “Or Chris Lambert maybe? Just saw him the other day over at Carlos & Charlie’s, he’s getting ready to do something with Joe Morrow, with that chick what’s-her-name, the one from ER?”

“Not any more, she just broke her leg in a riding accident.”

“No shit.”

“Yeah, it was in Variety, she was practicing riding for this picture they’re gonna do, some kind of Canadian western vampire movie, and she fell the fuck off the horse, so now Joe’s gotta replace her like this week.”

“That’s tough,” said Buddy.

“Yeah,” said Harvey. “But even if we don’t get more dough, if we could try for Bob Forster again maybe, or Mike Parks, those guys can do foreign --”

“I’m cool with either of those guys.”

“Dig. Well, whoever we get, at least it ain’t gonna be --”

Harvey let it trail off, but Buddy said:

“It ain’t gonna be the fuckin’ Mariner.”

“Dig it,” said Harvey. “I’ll get Marlene to get scripts to all those guys’ agents.“ New subject, any subject but the Ancient Mariner: “So, ya wanta give this one to Iggy again?”

“Sure," said Buddy, "if he wants to do it.”

“Okay. Just thought maybe you might want to get back to, you know, directing --”

“Nah, not if Iggy wants it,” said Buddy. “So what’s our new franchise title?”

“Fuck if I know,” said Harvey.

“Okay, I’ll try and think of something.”

“Cool. So,” Harvey lowered his voice a bit, “what’s up with you and the women around here? Are you and Debbie boning?”


“No?” Harvey lowered his voice even more. “Are you and Marlene boning?”


“For real?” he said, back to his normal voice.

“For real.”

“I mean not that it’s any of my business.”

“No boning, Harve.”

“No boning at all? I mean --”

“No. No boning. At all.”

“’Cause they’ve sure been acting a little weird around you, Buddy.”

“Yeah, I know. What about you?”

“What ‘what’ about me?”

“I dunno. How is Phoebe?”

“Phoebe’s fine.”

Phoebe was Harvey’s wife, although she wasn’t Heather’s mother. Harvey also had a couple of kids by Phoebe, boy and a girl, eleven or thirteen years old, in that range.

“Still going to that Asian place, Harve?”

“Yeah, you know me,” said Harvey, “creature of habit. It’s nice. I’ve been going to the same girl for months now. She’s very nice, goes to hairdressing school.”

“Do you think -- do you think Phoebe knows you go there?”

“Christ, not that I know of.”

“So you guys -- you know, you get along okay?”

“Yeah. We have our ups and downs. But, all in all -- Phoebe’s great, she really is.”

“What about -- oh, never mind.”

“What about sex?”


“About once every three months, usually after we’ve gone out and got a little loaded.”

“So that’s uh, you know --”

“Buddy, come on, we’ve been married a long time. Once every three months is good.”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“I mean, this is the real world we’re living in here, right?”

“So I hear.”

“Thank God for the Asian place, though,” said Harvey.

“Yeah. But what about Phoebe?”

“What about her?”

“What about her sex life?” said Buddy.

“Christ -- maybe she’s got an Asian place too,” said Harvey.


Next day, two dreaded meetings -- Buddy had deliberately scheduled them for the same day: first his accountant and then his divorce lawyer. He asked them both the same basic thing, to please help him not go to the poorhouse. The accountant told Buddy he should talk to his divorce lawyer about that. This was the same dude who had handled Buddy’s divorce from Madge.

“You gotta help me out here, Dave,” said Buddy to his lawyer.

“You got a great case, Bud. Don’t worry about it. She left you for another man.”

"I just don't want to lose the house."

"I'll bear that in mind."

"She can have every other fucking thing."

Dave pretended to write something on a legal pad.

"’Every other fucking thing.’ But from what you've told me your accountant tells you, you don't really have a lot of other assets."

"Well, you know the movie business, up and down. Always hoping for that elusive out-of-left field hit --”

“Yeah. So who’s Joan’s lawyer?”

“Beats me. She said she was gonna get one, but I haven’t heard from her since she took off for Europe with this idiot.”

“Do you know when she’s coming back?”

“No idea.”

“She hasn’t even been in touch with Deirdre?”

“She sent her a postcard last week. But it didn’t say when she was coming back.”

“O-kay,” said Dave.

Buddy looked out the window. They were on the thirty-third floor and you could see the Pacific Ocean from up here. Which was depressing somehow. Not so much the ocean itself but seeing it from up here was depressing. But then maybe it was just the
ocean --

“Ground control to Major Bud.”

“Oh -- I guess there’s no way I’ll get to keep Deirdre, right?”

“I doubt it. Not if Joan wants her.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

Buddy looked at the ocean for a bit more. In some ways Dave was a weird guy for a lawyer. For instance he knew how to keep quiet sometimes, and he did this now. But then of course Buddy was paying him for his time. But what sort of a maniac chose to become a divorce lawyer anyway? It was like deciding to be a proctologist. Or a mortician. Or a hit man?

“What’re you thinking about?” said Dave, finally.

“Oh, nothing,” lied Buddy.

“Okay. So, soon as Joan gets back, give me a call and we’ll see if we can get this thing rolling.”

“Right,” said Buddy. “Oh, by the way, my son Philip is probably going to call you. He split from his wife, too.”

“When it rains it pours,” said Dave.

“Yeah. You picked a good field, Dave.”

“Don’t I know it.”

But a funny thing happened as Buddy rode the shiny metal elevator down thirty-three stories through this ugly building. He finally realized that he was glad that Joan had fucked off. He didn’t know why it had taken him so long to come to this. Maybe he hadn’t become glad until recently or until just now, maybe deep down he had been glad about it all along but was just too stupid and humiliated to realize it, but now he did. Joan gone: not a bad thing. Joan gone: good thing.

But unfortunately this one good thing was going to mean a whole fuckload of bad things: the divorce and the lawyers, and the endless fistfuls of money down the toilet and the thousands of hours of wasted tortured time dragged screaming out of his life and all the unknown but pre-ordained hosts of demons just lying in wait to leap out and sink their fangs into his flesh in the months and years ahead as a result of Joan’s fucking off with this moron, and -- really fucking depressing -- the Deirdre thing. Joan would take her, even though or because Deirdre and Buddy got along about a thousand times better than Deirdre and Joan did, and even though -- oh, fuck it --

He didn’t want to think about it.


The day had been shot to hell, it was too late to get anything done at the office, so Buddy went home. He swam back and forth in his pool (which even Buddy noticed was clean now, and he did realize that Liz had apparently done something to make it be clean) until he was good and tired, then he drank a lot of bottled water. Health régime out of the way, he put on a t-shirt, went into the kitchen and emptied a bottle of beer into a big glass. The kitchen phone rang. He picked it up and said hello, but whoever was on the other end didn’t say anything.

“Fuck you,” said Buddy, and he pressed the button.

The phone immediately rang again. He thought about letting the voice mail take it, but he couldn’t resist. He pressed the talk button.

“Hey, fuck you, pal, and your bitch mother.”


It was Deirdre.

“Oh, sorry, babe. I just got this weird phone call. Somebody called and didn’t say anything.”

“Oh; did you star-69?”

“I didn’t have time to, ‘cause you called.”

“Oh, well, too late now.”

“Yeah. Fuck it. What’s up?”

“Can Trish stay over tonight?”


“Yeah, Trish.”

“Oh --”

“Don’t worry, we’re not gonna have sex.”

“All right, all right --”

“So it’s cool.”

“Sure, if it’s cool with her parents.”

“It’s just her mom, her parents are divorced, and her mom wants her out of the house because she has a date.”

“Her mom has a date?”

“Yeah,” she said. “Who do you think called you?”

“No idea.”

“It was probably Mom.”

“You think so?”

“She’s weird enough. She probably wanted to talk to me but not to you.”

“Calling from France?”

“Maybe. Or maybe she’s back.”

“She wouldn’t come back and not call.”

“Duh. That’s what I’m saying. Maybe she’s back and she did call, but she didn’t want to talk to you. Or she just wanted to yank your crank.”

“My what?”

“Look, don’t worry about it, Uncle Bud. Don’t try to read Mom’s mind, ‘cause she doesn’t have a mind.”

“Right. Good point.”

“Okay, look, dude, I have another call so I’ll see you in a little while.”

Buddy took the phone and his beer out back and sat down in his chair. He thought for a bit, and then he called the office and got Marlene to give him the Ancient Mariner’s home phone number. He dialed it, and after what seemed like seven or eight rings he was about to disconnect when an answering machine came on, and this was what it said:

“Hello, this is Stephen. I am not at home at this particular point in time, but, after the beep, please leave a brief message, including your full name, your telephone number and area code, and the time and date at which you are calling.”

And Buddy was all set to leave a brief message as soon as the thing beeped, but the Mariner wasn’t through yet. After a pause his voice continued:

“And my message to you is: Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. And [a chuckle] -- dance like nobody’s watching. [chuckling] Ciao.”

Buddy pressed the button.

The man was wrong. And just when you thought you knew how wrong he was he came up with a whole fucking new way to be wrong.

Buddy pressed the talk button and hit the redial. He sipped his beer and listened to the whole thing again and he made a mental note to get everyone at the office to call up and listen to it and leave fake messages.

When the beep finally beeped again Buddy said, “Hi, Stephen, Buddy Best here. Listen, if you’re back and if Joan is there --”


A girl had picked up on the other end.

“Hi,” said Buddy. “This is --”

“I know, I was listening. I was screening the calls. My dad doesn’t like me to answer the phone.”

“Oh --” that sort of humid voice -- “this is, uh -- Ophelia?”

“Close. Cordelia.”

“Ah, right. King Lear,” said Buddy. “The good daughter.”

“That’s me,” she said.

(What fine mess will Buddy get himself into now? Get an inkling in our next exciting chapter. Please feel free to consult the right hand column of this page for an often up-to-date listing of links to all other available episodes of Uncle Buddy’s House™, recently snubbed by the Nobel Prize committee as “completely lacking in moral uplift”.)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 168: him again

Let us rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his inebriated personal savior “Josh” in the King Edward Room of Cape May’s Chalfonte Hotel, on a night in August of 1963, just as Arnold has realized that the fellow deep in conversation with his friend Dick Ridpath down at the other end of the bar is no other than a brakeman poet by the name of Arnold Schnabel...

(Please click here to go to the previous episode of this Gold View Award™-winning memoir; new recruits or obsessed veterans who just can’t get enough may go here for the first chapter.)

“Oh, Christ,” I said.

“Arnold, please,” said Josh, in a slightly quietened voice, “call me Josh.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“You look upset. Is it because I ordered you an Old Fashioned?”

“No,” I said. “I mean, it’s true I don’t want an Old Fashioned --”

“Would you prefer just a glass of beer?”

“No, Josh, thank you. Look, do me a favor,” I was whispering, probably in a very suspicious manner, anyway I could see Beroosha and Manbootha or whatever their names were tilted toward us, smiling stiffly, their ears quivering as they tried to hear what Josh and I were saying, “do me a favor and just turn sort of naturally the other way and lean forward a bit and tell me who you see talking to my friend Dick down there at the other end of the bar. But don’t turn suddenly.”

“You told me you didn’t know the guy.”

“I said that because he was turned away. But just now I saw his face.”

“Wait, it’s not that bastard Lucifer again, is it? Did he follow us here?”

“No, Josh, it’s not Lucifer. Just look, but do it unobtrusively. Say something or other to these ladies.”

“Well, okay.”

Josh turned the other way, saying as he did, in a hearty fashion, “Well, where’re those libations?”

“Libations,” said Berooga. “You are so cute.”

“Too cute,” said Muranna.

“Here you are, sir,” said the bartender, arriving with a tray with the drinks.

“Well, thank you, Jerry,” said Josh. “What do I owe you?”

“On the house, sir,” said the bartender, deftly dropping a coaster in front of each of the four of us.

“Well, thank you very much, Jerry,” said Josh.

“My pleasure, Josh,” said the man, laying the drinks down and then backing away, bowing slightly.

Josh raised his drink to the ladies, they raised theirs. Not wanting to draw attention, I raised mine as well.

“Thank you very much, Josh,” said Beroomoo

“You’re a sweety-pie,” said Mulanna.

“Cheers,” said Josh.

The ladies both held out their glasses to be clinked, and Josh duly clinked them with his. Then I had to go through the awkwardness of reaching out my own glass for clinking.

Then came the drinking part. I hadn’t wanted to drink at all, but now I felt that just a little alcohol might help, so I took a sip. Anyway, the bartender had forgotten my large seltzer, so I had nothing else to drink.

Josh turned smiling to me, and leaning forward, he said, in a very quiet voice, holding the smile, “Arnold, that’s you down there, isn’t it?”


“What the heck is going on?”

“I’ve gone back in time again,” I said. “Inadvertently.”

“And brought me with you.”

“Yes. Sorry.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” he said.

“I do. I have to get back to my own time. This is too weird. Even for me. What if I turn and see myself here?”

“You mean the other you.”


“If he should see you here.”

“Right,” I said.

“Well, I’m sure he’ll be able to handle it. I mean you’re doing okay, considering.”

“No, I’m not. I’m ready to run out of here screaming.”

“Well, don’t do that.”

“I’ll try not to. But I have to do something.”

“What are you two talking about?” said Bezooma.

“Yeah, let us in on it,” said Muloona.

Josh turned back to the ladies.

“Please forgive us,” he said. “My friend Arnold has a little problem.”

“What sort of problem?” said Bethimba.

“Yeah, tell us,” said Marimba. “We know all about problems.”

“Well,” said Josh, “the problem is, he --”

Quickly and firmly I cut in.

“It’s my lady friend,” I said.

“What?” said Josh.

I poked my finger into his side.

“Aw, woman trouble,” said the B-woman.

“Women are trouble,” said the M-woman

Then they both burst into peals of laughter.

I saw myself turn and glance down toward our end of the bar, so I drew my head back, out of my line of vision.

“Josh,” I said, into his ear. “We have to get out of here.”

“But we just got our drinks.”

“Josh --”

“And you wanted something to eat.”

“I’ll grab something at home.”

He dropped to a more exaggerated whisper that was still just as loud as before, only more whispery.

“Wouldn’t it be rude just to leave these ladies after buying them drinks?”

“But, Josh, if I see myself then the entire, uh, fabric of the universe might fall apart.”

“You mean if your other self down there sees you.”


“Well, you’re seeing yourself and the universe seems okay.”

“So far.”

“Just relax. Maybe you’ll leave soon.”

“You mean the other me.”


I peeked down the bar again and just avoided myself idly glancing this way again. I noticed I was smoking one of my Pall Malls, and I was deeply envious.

I got up, keeping slightly bent over.

“Arnold --” said Josh.

“Hey, where ya goin’?” said Beroosha.

“Yeah,” added Mullasha.

“Uh, men’s room,” I mumbled, God knows why (or not), and I hobbled off, doing my hunchback imitation, but instead of heading back to the entrance I went the other way, into the short hall where the doors to the lavatories are. I don’t know why I did this, blame it on my confusion, or the reefer, or, perhaps since I had said I was going to the men’s room, blame it on the power of suggestion or on my wish never to tell a lie. At any rate I found myself going into the men’s room.

As it happened I had to urinate anyway. In fact I only now realized that I was ready to burst.

Fortunately no one else was in the small facility. I unzipped and relieved myself, it took a full two minutes at least, two minutes in which all was pleasure and nothing else seemed to matter, and then the two minutes were up, and reality, or my version of reality, descended upon me again. I re-zipped and went to the sink.

There was I in the mirror, with the same baleful face I had just seen back there in the bar.

I washed my hands, and splashed cold water on my face, on one of my faces.

After drying my face and hands on the towel from the roller thing I turned and took a look at the window. It wasn’t too high up, and it was open, with no screen. I didn’t like to abandon Josh, but after all he did have the two ladies to keep him company. I went over and took a deep breath to prepare myself before hoisting myself up onto the sill.

“Do you need a boost there, Mr. Schnabel?”

Of course I nearly leapt out of my skin.

I turned around.

It was that tall dark man from the Pilot House, the one Josh had pointed out to me, the one in the ash-colored suit. Very dark shiny hair, a black moustache. Smiling, smoking a fat strong-smelling cigarette.

It was Lucifer.

(Continued here, and until the men in the white jackets come. Kindly refer to the right hand column of this page for a dauntingly long list of links to all currently available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Be sure to watch out for the première of Ken Burns’s new 12-part documentary, Arnold Schnabel: American Master; music by Flatt and Scruggs; narrated by ”Wilford Brimley”; featuring interviews with David McCullough, George Will, Harold Bloom, Gore Vidal, Joyce Carol Oates, Dick Cavett, Alistair Cooke, Steve Allen, Kitty Carlisle, Sir Kenneth Clark, Bennett Cerf, and Tallulah Bankhead.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 18: to Roscoe’s

Big changes in Buddy’s house on Ivar Avenue, Hollywood, USA: his wife Joan has left him for a ham actor; his son Philip has moved back home following the dissolution of his own youthful marriage and the loss of his job; his stepdaughter Deirdre has been caught making out with another girl in the cloakroom at her school; and Buddy has had to fly to Milwaukee to bring home his troubled daughter Liz. Meanwhile Buddy’s colleague Debbie has revealed a romantic interest...

(Go here to see our preceding episode or here to go to the first chapter of this “scintillating and sin-soaked sockeroo showbiz sexposé” -- J.J. Hunsecker, in Parade Magazine.)

Here was the scoop. The doctor didn’t think it absolutely necessary that Liz go into rehab again, unless she herself really wanted to go in. He did think she should continue with AA or NA. He said she looked undernourished, and he recommended she eat and exercise and keep busy.

The doctor’s office was on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, and as they came out of the building Buddy said, “Okay, baby, you heard the Doc. Let’s eat. Your choice.”

She had gotten her cigarettes out while she was still in the elevator, and now she lit one up. She exhaled slowly, then looked at Buddy.

“Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles?”

“Let’s go.”

On the way over she said, “Wait, why was Philip around the house today?”

"Oh. I didn’t tell you. He left what’s-her-name.”

“Cynthia? He left the cunt?”


“For good?”

"Yeah, apparently. He moved back in about a week ago.”

“That’s great. I hated her.”

“Yeah, I wasn’t too crazy about her either --”

“Is that why you made out with her at the wedding?”

“All right, look, that whole incident got blown out of proportion, okay? I was drunk, she was drunk --”

“Dad --”


“I don’t give a shit,” said Liz. “Although Joan --”

“Yeah, I know --”

“Wait --”


“Where is Joan, by the way?”

“Oh, Christ, I never told you about that, either.”

“Told me about what?”

“We broke up. She left me. For some other jerk.”

“Dad, when did this happen?”

“It was like, oh, fuck, two weeks ago?”

“Christ, Dad, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Well, I was -- I don’t know --”

“You don’t know?”

“Well, baby, yesterday, and the night before -- you were --”

“Oh, right. Blotto. Followed by oblivious. Including pathetic.”

“Yeah. And this morning, and on the way to the doctor’s -- I don’t know -- it was -- you were --”

“Wrapped up in my own problems.”

“Yeah,” said Buddy. “But I mean, that’s okay --”

They were quiet for a bit. Of course Buddy could have telephoned Liz in Milwaukee, kept her apprised of what was going on in his life, in her brother’s life, maybe find out what was going on in her life. But he hadn’t called. And Liz hadn’t called him. Second-rate father. Addict daughter. They were a team.

“So,” said Liz, “I suppose Joan took Deirdre with her?”

“No, Deirdre’s still home. She was already at school by the time you got up today.”

“Wow. What a bad mother Joan is, not even taking fucking Deirdre.”

“Oh, I’m sure she will. See, a few days after she left me, she ups and goes off on a vacation, to France, with her boyfriend --”

“To France? Really? What a cunt.”

“-- but, if I know Joan, when she gets back --”

“She’ll take Deirdre just because Deirdre likes you better than she likes Joan. In fact, Deirdre doesn’t like Joan at all. But she loves you --”

“Well --”

“So, how do you feel?”

“Me? Um, I feel all right. I guess --”

“I mean about Joan leaving, Dad.”

“Yeah, I figured that,” said Buddy.

He stopped for a red light. Liz stared out into the distance, smoking. She had laid a lot of make-up on before going to the doctor’s, but it didn’t hide that bruise on her jaw.

“Hey, Liz.”


“Um, are you okay about, uh, are you all right about, um --”


“This, uh -- what is it, Keith or Craig?”


“Right. I mean -- look -- I told him I didn’t want him to try to call you or anything, to try to --”

“Good,” she said.

“Okay. I mean --”

“Dad --”


“Light’s changed.”

“Oh, right.”

She ate her chicken and waffles like a stevedore, and then after some hemming and hawing she ordered a piece of pineapple upside-down cake, or rather Buddy made the decision and ordered it for her, along with two coffees.

“Dad,” she said.

“Yeah, babe.”

“Look, I’m sorry I fucked up.”

“Okay, great, let’s move on, nobody’s perfect. So what do you want to do? You want to go back to Milwaukee?”

“Oh, Dad, what would be the point? I was so far behind at school. I mean, forget it. I don’t know what I was thinking about anyway. Film school? At UWM? When I could’ve just worked for you and learned all that shit.”

“You still can if you want to.”

“Well, maybe I will. But I have an idea. Funny how clear you can think when you sleep for about a million hours.”

“Yeah. So?”

“Dad, do you know the house is a complete mess?”

“Uh, yeah, yeah, I know, and I’m gonna get a cleaning lady, I’m gonna get on that -- thank you, miss.” The waitress had just put down their coffee. “I’ve been very preoccupied, Liz. Busy...”

“Dad, here’s my proposition. Let me keep house for you.”

Bud watched as Liz put a quarter pound of sugar into her coffee.

“Keep house,” said Buddy.

“I cook, I clean, I buy what we need, I’ll do it all.”

There was still some space left in her cup for cream, and she filled the space up.

“Well, okay -- but don’t you want to, or shouldn’t you --”

“In return, I get free room and board.”

She stirred her magic potion and finally lifted it to her lips.

“Well, okay, but, Christ, Liz, don’t you, you know --”

“I want to write, Dad. This will give me the freedom to write, and staying at home maybe I’ll keep out of trouble and not get mixed up with loser guys and start using drugs and drinking again.”

“Well -- okay. What are you going to write? Screenplays?”

The waitress was there again and she laid the pineapple upside-down cake in front of Liz.

“Thank you. No, no offense, Dad, but most screenplays are pretty damn shallow. I want to write a book.”

She dug into the cake.

“What, like a novel?”

“No, I’m going to write a memoir, about growing up in Hollywood, you know, you and Mom breaking up, my body-image problems, my sexuality problems, the diet-pill addiction, rehab, Milwaukee. That loser Craig. Oh, and Joan, the evil stepmom. And you.”

“Oh, great.”

“Well, what do you say?”

“Whatever you want to do, baby. What the hell, I’ll even toss in a little per diem.”

“I don’t need a per diem, Dad.”

“Well, we’ll see.”

“So you think it’s a good idea?”

“Yeah, sure, just don’t make me look like a complete asshole in your book.”

“I’ll try.”

Bud took a beat here.

“I mean I know I have been an asshole. I mean, in the past. I know I wasn’t like the most -- Ozzy Nelson of fathers --”

“Who is this Ozzy Nelson? I’ve heard that name.”

“He had a show, back in the fifties. A sitcom. He sat around the house wearing a cardigan.”

“Yeah, that wasn’t you,” she said, eating her cake. “Nope.”

And the thing is, she probably didn’t even know the half of it. Or did she?

“That definitely wasn’t you,” she said.

“I guess I’ll have to be on my good behavior from now on,” said Buddy.

“Yeah, I’ll be taking notes. Oh, shit, I ate all the cake and I didn’t offer you a bite.”

“That’s okay, sweety, I really didn’t want any.”

“You’re sure?”

“Sure. So, uh, I guess you’ll be going to AA?”

“Oh, yeah, Dad. I’m gonna go every day if I have to.”

She polished off her coffee and she looked satisfied.

“I just have one tiny suggestion,” said Buddy.

“I know, don’t get involved with anyone from the meetings.”

“I mean, I know it’s hard to meet people --”

“Dad, they’re not all losers like Craig.”

“I’m sure they’re not --”

“But they’re all drunks and drug addicts, right?”

“Uh, well --”

“Look, Dad, don’t worry your head about it, because you know something? I don’t even want to meet a guy. I don’t want to meet anyone.”


“Sex is too weird for me now. And relationships are boring.” She’s my daughter all right -- “I’m just gonna like buy a vibrator...”

“All right, cool it --”

“Sorry. Should we get more coffee?”

“Why not, let’s go crazy.”

Buddy raised his coffee cup for the waitress to see it.

“You crack me up, Dad.”

“I crack myself up.”

“That’s why I prefer you to Mom. She’s so fucking serious.”

“You should call her, by the way.”

“I will,” said Liz. "If that fucking head-monk will put her on the phone. He’s such an asshole.”

“He’s an idiot,” said Buddy.

“Yeah. Mom’s an idiot too, isn’t she? But I’ll call her.”

The waitress came over with the coffee pot.

“So, Dad,” said Liz, “what is up with you and Debbie Greenberg?”

Buddy dropped Liz off at the house and then headed back to the office. Marlene was there. Looking good.

“Hey, Buddy. How’s Liz?”

“She’s -- well -- she’s got a good attitude. She’s --”

“Well, like I said, if you need any help, Buddy --”


“I’ve been through all this with my brother.”

“Thanks, Marlene.”

“I wanted to pick you up at the airport yesterday, but
Debbie --”

“Yeah, I know --”

He also knew that Marlene and Debbie had a close but volatile friendship, and he knew he wasn’t going to get involved in any shit between those two if he could help it.

“They all in there?”

“Harvey and Debbie are. Heather’s in the editing room with Iggy and Maxine.”


She was looking him all over and right through him, all her feminine radar and sonar on full blast, and he hightailed it into Harvey’s office, noticing along the way that Marlene’s skirt was short and that she had great legs.

The meeting with the Sony people had gone well. They would look at a cut in a week or two; if they liked what they saw they were open to the idea of domestic theatrical distribution and of taking the film to festivals; also, there was a good chance Lenny might get more money for his music budget. The cable people still had to be dealt with, but if Sony dug Iggy’s next cut there should be no problem on that front. Fine, fine, fine...

Buddy was heading out through the outer office and saying a quick “See ya later” to Marlene when Debbie came clacking out after him on her high heels.

“Hey, Best.”

“Yeah, Deb.”

“So tell me about Liz.” In the office Buddy had simply told them that Liz was fine. “And don’t just tell me she’s fine again.”

Marlene was looking at them over her computer screen.

“Well, she seems fine,” said Buddy.

“So is she going back to rehab?”

“No. But she is gonna stay home for a while.”

“And do what?”

“She’s, uh, she’s gonna keep house for me.”

“Keep house?”


“That is so -- 19th Century.”

“Hey, it’s her idea.”

“I dunno.”

“Well, she’s not gonna just keep house. She wants to write.”

“A screenplay?”

“No, I think like a memoir.”

“What’s she got to write a memoir about? She’s what, twenty-three, twenty-four --”

“Well, you know, they start ‘em young nowadays.”

Marlene was typing at her keyboard but she was hanging on every word.

“I’ll walk you out to your car,” said Debbie.


“Boy, sister was all ears,” said Debbie.

“Hey, Marlene’s cool,” said Buddy.

“I know she is. She runs this company. Or rather she and I run it. So,” she said.

“Yeah?” said Buddy. She looked into his eyes. “Yeah,” he said.

She touched his face and came closer, in the bright sunlight. She smelled good. People walked by them on the sidewalk, cars drove by on Hollywood Boulevard.

“Hey, Deb --”


“Deb, look, I just don’t know if I can --”

“Get it up?”

“Well, that too.”

“You’re afraid.”

“Yeah, that too.”

“What else?”

She was looking him right in the eyes. She’d been to all sorts of empowerment seminars, years of therapy; she believed in dealing directly with people, and she was good at it.

“Deb, look, what do you want from a man?”

“Besides a hard dick?”

“Yeah, besides that.”

“You mean do I want to get married?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Yeah, I would like that, if I could find someone who --”

“Which is what every woman says.”

“You sexist asshole.”

“Deb, I don’t want to get married again. I don’t want to live with a woman again.”

“You just got separated, Buddy, slow the fuck down.”

“But, if we -- went out, that’s where it would be leading, I mean possibly -- “

“What a coward.”

“I just don’t want that, Deb. And, anyway, we work together. It could get -- weird.”

“It always gets weird.”

“I know,” said Buddy. “But it’s just --”

“Buddy. It’s okay. You can stop now.”

“Well --”

“You don’t know what you’re missing, though.”

“Oh, I can imagine.”

“You think so?”

“I’ll probably be imagining it tonight when I’m whacking myself off to sleep.”

She touched his face again.

“You’re sweet.”

“Yeah,” said Buddy. “So, okay --”

“Where were you running off to anyway, sexy man?”

“Nowhere, really. I was just running.”

“Ruthie has her piano lesson today. What about a drink at my place? If we leave now we should have an undisturbed hour or so.”

“Don’t you have work to do?”

“You’re my boss. You tell me.”

“Well --”

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck. Fuck.

Buddy suddenly realized he was sweating, from head to toe. And it wasn’t all that hot out, either.



“I was kidding.”


“You can breathe now.”

She put her hands on his arms and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

“Talk to ya later.”

“Yeah, later, Deb.”

She turned around and headed back into the building.

When Buddy got home Liz was lying on the couch, on the phone, and he could tell just by looking at her and by her tone of voice that she was talking to her mother. And, as was usual for them, they seemed to be in the middle of some low-level but endless argument. He left them to it.

(Continued here, despite a flurry of completely ungrounded lawsuits. Kindly go to the right hand column of this page to find what on most days is an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™. A Republic Serial, produced by Larry Winchester.)