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So we went through the lobby, down the little side hall, and opened the door into the King Edward Room. The place was pretty full still, but oddly not noisy for a bar, thanks to its old-school absence of a jukebox, TV or radio. It felt odd to think that I had been here for the first time just the night before last, with Dick Ridpath. It seemed like another lifetime, but then all at once it seemed like this lifetime, because there at the far left of the bar sat Dick himself, talking what looked to be intently with some other guy. The other guy was turned toward Dick and away from Josh and me, so I couldn’t get a good look at him, except to see he was wearing the same kind of polo shirt that my mother always buys for me at Sears; he struck me as somewhat oafish-looking somehow, perhaps even cretinous, although I should have been hard-pressed to tell exactly how he looked this way.
“You know those guys?” said Josh.
“The one fellow I do,” I said. “The one facing more toward us. He’s a friend of mine, Dick Ridpath.”
“Another friend! Mr. Popularity here.”
“Oh, yeah, I’m a regular --” I couldn’t think of anyone who had a lot of friends. “Oscar Levant?”
“That’s you all right, Arnold, a regular Oscar Levant. You want to go say hi?”
“Well, he seems awfully deep in conversation with that other fellow.”
“You don’t know him?”
“No,” I said, slowly I suppose.
“What,” said Josh.
“I don’t know,” I said. “He looks -- weird.”
“All I can see is the back of his head. How is he weird?”
“I don’t know, just something about him. But I’m sure it’s just me.”
“I want that beer. You want to go say hi, or what?”
“No, I don’t want to interrupt.”
“Okay, great, look, there’s a couple of stools down there,” he said, indicating the opposite end of the bar from where Dick and his companion sat.
Two ladies were sitting on the stools near the empty seats, and as we got near them Josh said, smiling in that way he has, “Are these seats occupied, ladies?”
“Oh, no, go right ahead,” said one lady.
“Sit away!” said the other one.
“Great,” said Josh. He took the stool closest to the two women, (and I of course sat down in the other one, preferring to sit, rather than stand there, like an idiot). “Can I buy you two ladies a drink?” Josh asked.
“Sure,” said the first one, who was sitting closest to Josh.
“Absolutely,” said the other one.
“Great, what are you drinking?”
“Old,” said the one.
“Fashioneds,” said the other.
“Great,” said Josh, tapping his cigarette into the same ashtray the first woman was using.
As usual with Josh the bartender was right there the moment he sat down, if not several seconds before.
“What’s your pleasure, my lord?”
“Oh, none of that ‘my lord’ stuff,” said Josh. “I’m a human being just like you now.”
“Of course, sir.”
“Call me Josh.”
“And your name is -- wait -- don’t tell me. Let me riffle through the old mental card file a second. George?”
“No, not George. Harry, right?”
“What is it?”
“Jerry, sir, I mean, Josh.”
“Jerry? Oh, well, okay -- anyway, Jerry, would you make us four -- what are they?” He turned to the two ladies, who were hanging on his every word. “Fashions?”
“Fashioned,” said the first woman.
“Old Fashioned,” said the other.
“Old Fashioned,” said Josh, turning back to the bartender. “Four of them, please.”
This time I didn’t even bother to protest. I knew what little good it would do me. But fortunately there didn’t seem to be a team of heavyweight wrestlers around who would hold my arms back and force the drink down my throat.
“A glass of seltzer water for me, too, please,” I said, “A large one.”
“Four Old Fashioneds,” said the bartender, “coming right up.”
“And a seltzer,” I said.
“Right. One seltzer back,” said the bartender, and he went away.
“So, ladies,” said Josh, “allow me introduce myself and my friend. This is Arnold.”
“Hi, Arnold,” said the first woman. She was blond.
“Hello,” I said.
“Hiya,” said the other woman, who was also a blonde. “I’m Muhhanna.”
I know Muhanna couldn’t be her name, but that’s what it sounded like.
“And I’m Berootha,” said the first one, and, again, I know it wasn’t really Berootha, but that’s what will have to do for the time being, and quite possibly for ever. “And you are?” she said to Josh.
I just knew he was going to forget again and say his real name, so I burst in, “This is Josh,” trying to sound not psychopathic but only perhaps slightly socially inept.
“Pleased to meet you,” said Josh to the ladies. I noticed he didn’t say their names, so maybe he hadn’t quite caught them either. He did rise politely from his seat and shake their hands though, one at a time.
The women were forty I guess, somewhere around there in that first blush of middle age. They seemed to enjoy Josh’s attentions, despite his dirtied and rumpled clothes, his long hair and stubbly beard. Despite his obvious drunkenness too, I might add.
And despite his friend with the scraped knees and arm and hand.
Josh sat back down again and suddenly turned to me.
“Oh, you wanted food, Arnold. What would you like?”
I was looking down the length of the bar, to where Dick and his friend were still deep in conversation. His friend’s face was now in profile, and now he seemed really and strangely familiar.
“Arnold,” said Josh. “What would you like to eat, buddy?”
I couldn’t answer, because I had just realized that the fellow Dick was talking to so intently down there at the other end of the bar was none other than myself.
(Continued here, and way beyond all reasonable expectations. Kindly look to the right hand column of this page to find an interminable list of links to all other available episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Gold View Award-winning Railroad Train To Heaven©. A reminder: the deadline’s approaching, so be sure to send in those cards and letters on Arnold’s behalf to the Nobel Prize Committee today!)