Wednesday, December 16, 2009

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 178: to bed

In our previous chapter our hero Arnold Schnabel at long last made it back to his humble attic room atop his aunts’ shambling old boarding house in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey, in the wee small hours of August 11, 1963...

(Click here to return to the first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning multi-volume masterwork. “I should sooner go without my make-up and a change of clean linen than to travel anywhere without a Schnabel in my purse.” -- Sarah Palin, in conversation with Sir Kenneth Clark.)

I undressed down to my boxer shorts, turned out the lights and got into my narrow bed.

It seemed absurd to say my prayers after spending a good deal of the evening with the son of God himself, so I didn’t bother.

(And, besides, down in Miss Evans’s room hadn’t I just finished offering a quick prayer to his father? A prayer which indeed it seemed he had answered in an agreeable fashion.)

It had been another long and eventful day, to say the least.

I had traveled in time, I had inhabited a stranger’s body, I had consorted with the aforementioned son of the deity, I had flown through the air, I had made love twice if memory served, I had been bruised and scraped and had just barely avoided personal extinction three or four or was it five times, I had done battle with and had triumphed over the devil and at least one of his minions, I had also incidentally, among many other strange and wonderful adventures (and if I may be so immodest as to say so myself) helped to save the entire universe from destruction -- and, perhaps most remarkable of all, I had, after that first coughing-fit-inducing Pall Mall in the morning, successfully gone through the entire day without another cigarette.

This was not a life I had ever expected or hoped to have, but, all in all, taking one thing with another, it definitely beat being back in the nut house, and it definitely beat working on the railroad and living my grey little life with my mother back in Olney...

As so often happens, I had gone to bed on the verge of passing out, but now that I finally lay there safely I couldn’t shut off my brain.

Outside the screening of my little casement window the leaves of the big old oak tree out there glinted in the streetlamp light.

I could sense the breathing of all the other souls in this house, some of whom I just now realize I have never even mentioned in these memoirs. Besides my own kin and Miss Evans and Mr. and Mrs. DeVore -- and besides Mrs. and Miss Rathbone, who had the little cottage out back -- there were others, none of whom I knew well, and none of whom I had any desire to know better, although in fact there were several I wished I knew even less than I did. Perhaps these now nameless people will appear in later chapters of these memoirs, but for now we will pass over them in silence.

Speaking of this house’s other souls, and still speaking of my insomnia, I suddenly remembered Miss Evans’s book. If that couldn’t put me to sleep then nothing could, so I switched on my bedside lamp, adjusted my pillows against the wall, and picked up Ye Cannot Quench. I would much rather have read my Patricia Highsmith novel, but the problem was that that book was actually interesting, and would only serve to keep me awake. But before I dived in to Miss Evans’s novel I remembered the third book I was currently reading, The Waste Land. In its own exalted way that slender volume if only by the nature of its being poetry should ipso facto be more soporific than even Miss Evans’s enormous tome; however, T.S. Eliot did not reside in this house (although I wouldn’t put it past him if he did show up) whereas Gertrude Evans did, and it seemed that the least I could do after rebuffing her advances was to try to make some headway in her book.

I opened it up to where I’d left my marker. I’d only gotten about twenty pages in, and I still had five or six hundred to go. How Miss Evans was going to fill up all those pages I had no idea.

I tried to recall what had happened already. A girl named Emily who comes to New York City from West Virginia. An old rag-and-bones woman in a coffee shop who tells Emily that she (Emily) will find true love. Emily gets a job at a publisher’s, and there’s a Rock Hudson sort of publisher’s son there, named -- what? I skipped back a bit. Julian, Julian Smythe. It occurred to me that you never actually met people with names like Julian Smythe in real life (or at least I never met them) but then it also occurred to me that that was okay. Oh, right, and there was this Montgomery Clift-type poet cabdriver guy with another novel-character name -- Porter Walker. Anyway, Emily wound up staying at this Porter guy’s place in Greenwich Village after he helped her move into her new apartment, the purported reason for her staying over being that she didn’t have a bed yet. They make love, which stretched out over five or six pages, most of which was Emily remembering some other guy back in West Virginia, and then Porter falls asleep, and Emily resumes reading his epic poem of New York City, The Brawny Embraces (which he doesn’t know she is reading as an assignment from the Rock Hudson guy).

And that’s where I had left off, with Emily reading this poem. I looked ahead a little. This bit of the poem went on for about four or five pages. At this rate maybe I should have just gone with The Waste Land. But I felt duty-bound to give it a go.

Here’s some of what I read, copied out verbatim:

I strike my beer bottle down upon the table like a gavel:
“Silence, you fools!” I cry. “Listen to these cats wail!
Still your fat tongues and open your flabby ears,
For these dusky Negroes sing of a truth we cannot grasp
With our lily-white minds!”
All too soon a great bartender heaves me up, drags
Me to the door and tosses me out into the humid street,
Into the flyblown night, and I stumble across the pavement
And grab hold of a streetlamp’s hard metal shaft;
“Fools!” I cry, and bang my forehead against the unforgiving steel,
“Ow!” I cry, and then I cry hot tears, not only from the physical pain
But from the spiritual torment, that I am condemned
To walk among the living dead;
But then I see the beat cop, twirling his baton,
And so quickly I pull myself together and walk away,
Whistling nonchalantly;
I must find another joint with cool hot jazz, one
From which I have not been flagged, and there
I shall sit quietly and nurse my Rheingold,
Content to dig those crazy sounds my own way
Even if no one else does; and find one I do,
On ancient Thompson Street, and I find an empty stool,
And I’m digging, et cetera, and so forth,
Bobbing my head (but not too vigorously,
For once one of these sacred cats, a trumpeter called Gabe,
Told me there was nothing sadder than the sight
Of a white cat trying to get down with it)
When a chick asks me for a light.
She seems kind of square, a chick on the make --
Does she not know I am here to dig the magic sounds
And not to make whoopee with some midtown secretary?
But then I notice her friend, a shy girl, with eyes as
Deep and as grey as the fogbanks of dawn…

Fogbanks of dawn? That was the sort of nonsense I used to write, and not all that long ago, either. Well, okay, so the guy was a bad poet. Did that make him a bad person? I wasn’t sure. But on the other hand this Emily girl seemed to think the poem was pretty good. Which didn’t make her a bad person either I supposed, although it did make her a stupid person.

And then I remembered that Emily and Porter weren’t real, they were only characters in a book. Unlike myself, or Miss Evans, or all these other people and creatures who had crowded my day.

But the odd thing was that even Emily and Porter now seemed more real to me than some of these nondescript people staying in this very house.

I read a bit more of Porter’s poem. He, or at any rate the narrator of the poem, falls into a tentative romance with the girl he met in the jazz bar. Her name wasn’t Emily, but it was Emma, and she didn’t work for a publisher, but she did work for a magazine, and she wasn’t from West Virginia but Virginia...

I closed up the book, set it aside and put out the light.

The oak tree outside my little window brushed its leaves softly against the screen.

All in all (and despite the fact that I wasn’t completely discounting the possibility that I had gone hopelessly insane) I had to say that this past day had been the best day of my life so far.

I actually looked forward to this new day that awaited me.

And so I drifted off into sleep.

(Continued here, we have no choice.)

(Kindly go to the right hand side of this page to find an often up-to-date list of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, the perfect holiday gift for that special literate someone.)


Unknown said...

Sublime, Arnold. What day could ever be better? Maybe the day when you managed to capture this one in prose that was sometimes subtle, sometimes poetic, but always so clear we felt as if we were right there with you--except, of course, when you were making love.
Or did you write all this on the run?

DR said...

that was one of the best things i ever read--thank you

Dan Leo said...

Ah, thanks, Dean -- and Arnold's mom thanks you too!

Unknown said...

Say Hi to Gabe from me. He is the coolest cat of all!

Dan Leo said...

Di, Gabe's supposed to fall by my pad later tonight after his gig -- we're gonna spin some platters, blow some gage and drink some dago red -- so I'll be sure to say hello for you!

Jennifer said...

I had a big ol' smile on my face from the first word to the last. What an excellent day... what a beautiful ending.

Arnold only left out one thing... how many times he peed!!! :)

Dan Leo said...

Ha ha -- Jen, we'll leave that last detail to some Ph.D. scholar of the future.

By the way, although I don't indicate it as such, this is the close of "Volume 2" of Arnold's memoirs (Volume 1 goes up to Part 101); but fear not, Arnold's adventures will continue following the holiday break. We still have hundreds of those marble copybooks to transcribe...

Jennifer said...

We still have hundreds of those marble copybooks to transcribe...

Thank GAWD!

Dan Leo said...

It's nice to be appreciated, Jen!