Thursday, November 12, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 173: subjunctive

Once again our hero Arnold Schnabel has done battle with and conquered the Dark Lord, AKA “Mr. Lucky”, on this historic night in August of 1963, in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey...

(Go here to go to read our previous chapter, or click here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning memoir, which Harold Bloom has called “immensely long; would only that it were longer”.)

Well, Mr. Arbuthnot had said the ink was special.

I removed the cap from the barrel of the pen, replaced it onto the front section, put the pen back into my trouser pocket.

The back of my head hurt, my arms and chest ached from where Mr. Lucky had been respectively squeezing and shoving, my re-scraped knees throbbed, but I was breathing and alive, the soles of my Keds solidly upon the homely concrete of Cape May as opposed to the eternally burning coals of hell.

I heard Buddy groaning. Which was good. Dead men don’t groan.

He was lying on his stomach, on the pavement, his body moving slightly.

I went over to where he lay, and leaned over.


I reached down and tugged at his shoulder.

“What is it?” he said.

“Buddy, you okay?”

He pushed himself away from the concrete, and I helped to pull his body up into a sitting position.

He rubbed his crewcut head. He didn’t look so bad, considering. He probably looked a lot better than I did, I’ll tell you that much.

“What hit me? I feel like a f***ing bus run over me.”

“You were in a fight,” I said.

“Where’s the other guy?”

“He, uh, took off.”

“Did you kick his ass, I hope?”

“Well, let’s just say I got rid of him.”

“Good man, Arnold. Help me up.”

I did this, and he stayed on his feet.

“So you sent him packin’, huh?”

“Yeah, sort of.”

“Well, see ya later, Arnie.”

“Where do you live, Buddy?”

“Just right down the block here.”

“I’ll walk you.”

“All right, pal.”

By now I was more or less resigned never to get home, or at least not this night, which seemed more and more likely never to end.

At first Buddy staggered wildly as he walked, but pretty soon he settled down and only occasionally bumped into me.

We turned in through the front gate of one of the big old gabled houses on Hughes, and Buddy led me around to the back.

At the side rear of the house a set of wooden stairs led up to the second floor.

“I’m just right up there,” said Buddy.

“Well, good night then,” I said.

He put out his hand, I took it, he squeezed it with a grip only slightly less steely than Mr. Lucky’s.

He started up the stairs. He missed his footing on about the third step and almost fell, so I went up, took his arm, and helped him up the stairs.

We went in through a screen door, and, amazingly, nothing too weird happened, at least not right away. It’s true that Buddy’s one-room apartment was lined with instrument panels and television screens, the televisions showing various scenes, in black-and-white, from around the earth and even from what appeared to be other planets, a speaker next to each screen emitting its own separate sounds, the sum of which sounded like the humming of a great beehive, or that sound a crowd of people makes when leaving a sports stadium after the home team has been humiliatingly defeated.

“Okay, Buddy,” I said, “I guess I’ll be heading home now.”

“Look at them scrapes you got there,” he said. “They’re gonna get all infected and shit.”

“Oh, I’ll be fine,” I said, my hand on the handle of the screen door. “A little bit of iodine --”

“Iodine? What are we, in the 20th century?”

“Well, actually --”

“Stay right there. I got somethin'.”

I sighed, but I stayed, while Buddy went off into what appeared to be a bathroom.

I looked at the various TV screens. On one of them I saw my own bloodied and baleful self, standing by Buddy’s screen door. I looked around but I couldn’t see a TV camera. Well, no matter.

Through the open bathroom door I heard through the ambient hum the unmistakable sound of someone urinating, and then I heard Buddy singing: “Lady of Spain”.

Slightly bored, I looked at myself on the TV screen again.

Looking a little more carefully I saw beyond myself the image of myself on a smaller TV screen, looking in turn at the image of myself on a yet tinier screen, and so on.

Finally I heard the toilet flush. I heard no sounds of Buddy washing his hands however, and he came right out, still humming “Lady of Spain” and carrying a squat brown corked bottle and a hand towel.

“All right, Arnie,” he said, “Sit down and I’ll take care of ya.”

“Y’know, really, Buddy --”

“Sit down.”

There was an arm chair there, another wicker one, with a Racing Form on the seat. I picked up the paper and sat down. There was a small table with a lamp next to the chair, but it was cluttered with an overflowing ashtray, an opened half-full box of Dutch Masters Panetellas and five or six presumably empty pint cans of Schmidt’s beer.

“Just throw the paper on the floor, Arnie,” said Buddy.

I did as he said, dropping it onto a great pile of Racing Forms and Argosy and True and other more lewd and lurid men’s magazines of the sort I had always wanted to purchase but in my cowardice posing as virtue had not.

“All right,” he said, pulling the cork out of the bottle with his teeth, “let’s get to work.”

Laying the cork on the table, he upended the bottle onto the towel, which I could plainly see was not 100% clean to begin with. Nor even 50%.

“Buddy,” I said, “shouldn’t we maybe get a cleaner towel.”

“Nah, it don’t matter. This s**t will disinfect anything it touches.” The towel was turning blood red in his hand. “Besides, I ain’t got a clean towel. Lemme see them scrapes on your arms and hands.”

I held up my arms and he leaned closer.

“Christ, they already look like they’re infected. What did you do, roll around in a pile of dogs**t?”

“No,” I said. But then I remembered wiping my wounds with the water from that gladiolus vase in the Chalfonte’s Magnolia Room just as, simultaneously, I vaguely recalled something I had read in “Hints From Heloise” about the potential toxicity of such water.

“All right,” said Buddy, “let’s get to work,” and he started on the big scrape running from my right elbow down to my hand.

As he swabbed my wounds I gritted my teeth and looked away at those ubiquitous TV screens, including the one containing me gritting my teeth and looking at myself in the tinier screen and so on, and I listened, or pretended to listen, while Buddy babbled on about creatures from some other dimension and flying saucers and whatnot. I was in rather a lot of pain, and so I was paying even less attention than I normally do when someone else is talking. Also, that stuff he was swabbing my wounds with further distracted me by its intense odor, reminiscent of the smell of a recently bombed building in the rain.

“Needless to say, Arnie,” I became aware of Buddy saying to me, “alla shit I’m tellin’ ya is on the Q.T., strictly.”

“Oh, sure, Buddy,” I said.

He was squatting in front of me, holding the wadded up towel against my right knee. I had to admit that the pain had already lessened considerably in my arms and hands.

“So,” I said, just to bring the conversation back down to earth a bit, “where are your wife and kids, Buddy?”

I had often seen him and his family at mass, four or five apparently mentally-disturbed young scamps of both genders and a beleaguered-looking thin woman.

“Oh, they live in the house over on Broadway,” said Buddy. “But I usually sack out here. More privacy, ya know? My wife prefers it this way, too. Hey, get me out one of them Dutch Masters, will ya?”

I unwrapped one of the cigars, gave it to Buddy. There was a box of Sid’s Tavern matches on the table also, and I gave him a light as he continued to hold the towel against my knee.

“These screens are all set to present time of course,” he said. “If you like I can switch ‘em to the past. Anything you want to see? Anything ya want, Battle of Gettysburg, Columbus discovering America -- or maybe you want to see some episode in your past life?”

“No thanks,” I said. I'd had enough of this sort of thing for one day.

“The only thing they can’t do is show the future. We just ain’t got the technology yet. But I’m workin’ on it, believe you me.”

I was tempted to ask him for one of the cigars; his smelled pretty good.

“On the other hand --” He was working on my other knee now. “I could change the channel and show ya what might have been. Like, say one day in your past life you just decided to hop a freighter for Timbuktu instead of working on the railroad your whole life.”

Why was it that everyone in this town knew all about me? And I knew so little about them.

“Your whole life might have been different,” he said.

“That’s true,” I said.

“Not to say it would have been any better.”

“No, I suppose not --”

“What if your ship sunk. Or what if when you got to Timbuktu you got trampled by an elephant?”

“Yeah --”

“Ya want me to change the channel?”

“No, that's okay, Buddy, thanks,” I said.

He went back to humming, smoking all the while and occasionally singing a phrase of “Lady of Spain”, holding the scarlet towel against my knee.

Finally he stood up. He tossed the towel onto the floor, took the cork from the table top, and stoppered the bottle.

“Take a look,” he said.

I looked at my arms and hands, at my knees and shins. The affected areas were slightly pink, but the scrapes and cuts were gone, as was the pain. All that remained were slight tingling sensations as if those areas of my epidermis had been doused with witch hazel.

“Not bad, huh?” he said.

It certainly wasn’t bad. But I immediately wondered what I would tell Josh tomorrow. How would he feel knowing that an inebriated and apparently insane automobile mechanic was able to do what he could not? It must be quite disconcerting realizing that your own creations were more powerful than yourself.

I hauled myself up

“Well, thanks a lot, Buddy,” I said.

“Don’t mention it, pal.”

“I guess I really should be going.”

“Okay. You ever wanta stop by and watch the TVs, just come on by.”

“Well, I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe.”

“Not your cup of tea?”

“Well, I prefer other types of shows. You know --”

“Oh, like intellectual shows probably, huh?”

“Oh, no, just, you know, M Squad, Johnny Staccato. Naked City.”

“Yeah, intellectual type shows.”

“Well -- uh --”

“Stop by anyway. I don’t usually meet bums who got a brain. You know. A bum I can talk to.”

“Okay, Buddy.”

That seemed noncommittal enough.

Buddy was a nice guy and all, but I wasn’t so sure about his room full of televisions.

(Continued here; and don't worry, we still have 1,987 of Arnold’s notebooks to transcribe.)

(Please go to the right hand column of this page for what on many days is an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, absolutely free of charge, although donations will be accepted in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Literacy Project.)


Jennifer said...

I don't think we're in Kansas anymore...

Unknown said...

This is the best episode yet! I've been so worried about Arnold's knees...

Thank you, Dan!!!!

Dan Leo said...

Jen, Cape May is starting to make Oz look normal...

Di, I just want you to know that you have officially influenced Arnold's memoirs! How you were able to do this from Australia and 46 years in the future is a question only Buddy Kelly or Mr. Arbuthnot would be able to answer...

Unknown said...

I love people who don't need sleep. How do they do it?

Jennifer said...

Also- that cover of Man's Life is a hoot!

Dan Leo said...

Kathleen, I'd try to answer your question, but I'm too sleepy right now...

Jen, I know, I know, I spent way too much time the other night researching those Men's adventure mags! What a very weird phenomenon.

Unknown said...

and all this time Electra is presumably peacefully asleep. It seems like an age since they last saw each other.

Dan Leo said...

At least someone is getting a decent night's sleep, Di.

DR said...

weasles ripped my flesh!

Dan Leo said...

Thank you, Professor Dean!

Unknown said...

a real mood-changer!

Dan Leo said...

Yes, Di -- we're all in the subjunctive mood now...

Tim said...

Wow. I love it when I'm able to "save up" postings and spend an hour or so in Schnabelland. I just spent one of the most pleasurable hours I have ever spent reading anything. Ever. Dan, this is brilliant storytelling. Thanks so much for enriching our lives with this.

A question comes to my mind though. Considering Arnold's action-packed days, when did he find the time to write?

Unless in reality he had nothing but time and is simply brilliant. I suspect the reality is somewhere in the middle.

Dan Leo said...

Thanks so much, Tim, I really appreciate it!

Ha -- you're right, Arnold didn't have much time for his memoir on this particular day. I suspect he would catch up with his writing on somewhat less eventful days...

Unknown said...

There are more things in heaven and earth, Arnold, than are dreamt of in your philosophy...

I'm intrigued by the title of this episode. Is that subjunctive as in "would be, could be..."?

Dan Leo said...

Or "should be"?

Tim said...


I just remembered something significant from my "Fern Rock Theatre Days" in the '60s - at the very same time Arnold is writing away in Cape May.

We neighborhood kids had a friend at the Fern Rock who was an usher. He actually let us behind the screen, which was a big deal, and I remember vividly seeing the image of a Three Stooges short backwards from behind the screen. Anyway, we thought it was a big deal because he let us throw the lever which turned out the theatre lights right at showtime, and I'll never forget the din of hundreds of children's screams as the lights went out at the start of the show. Anyway, he'd give us free popcorn and generally treat us as VIPs.
The usher's name......


I kid you not!

Dan Leo said...

Tim, for the second day in a row you have made my day!

I too spent so many happy hours at the Fern Rock, no matter how lame the movies were, but -- damn, I don't remember ever getting to go behind the screen...

Tim said...

The Fern Rock, 35cents for most movies, 50 cents for Disney movies. A small popcorn was 15 cents. Mr. Glass was the manager. The candy counter lady had an odd accent. When you walked up to the counter, the thin, 70ish woman always said the same thing: "wusha want?" My younger brother, who always ordered Jujubees, did a great impression of her.

Dan Leo said...

Love it. Love that Disney movies cost 15 cents more...