Friday, February 26, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 188: epic

The bad news is that the Prince of Darkness has transported our long-suffering memoirist Arnold Schnabel into Ye Cannot Quench, a now forgotten novel of 1950s New York; the good news is that Arnold’s “character” -- the handsome and romantic Porter Walker -- has just clinched a publication deal for his epic poem The Brawny Embraces. Let us rejoin Arnold (all right, “Porter”) in the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, where he is just finishing a vinous lunch with his dashing publisher Julian Smythe and the putative heroine of the novel, the lovely young Emily...

(Click here to go to our previous episode; newer students may go here to return to that faraway first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning saga.)

Maxie the waiter had reappeared and started deftly laying the empty plates along one extended thin arm.

“Coffee or dessert, Mr. Smythe?”

“Anyone?” asked Julian, glancing from me to Emily.

“I’d like a cup of coffee,” said Emily.


Normally I polish off lunch with at least two or three cups of coffee, as strong and as black as possible, but now all I really wanted to do was just go back to bed, any bed, even my bed in Miss Evans’s novel, I just didn’t care. So I told Julian no, thanks.

“Yeah, me neither,” he said. “How about dessert?”

“I’ll take some chocolate cake if they have it,” said Emily.

“We got a excellent chocolate cake, miss,” said Maxie.

“Dessert, Porter?” asked Julian. “The cherries jubilee are pretty good here.”

“No, thank you, Julian,” I said.

For two cents I would have pushed my plate away, laid my head on the table, and passed out right there.

“Okay, Maxie,” said Julian, “coffee and chocolate cake for the lady and just a couple of those good Napoleon brandies for me and Mr. Walker.”

“Oh, no,” I said.

“Oh, yes,” said Julian.

I don’t remember much of the next fifteen minutes or so. A great snifter the size of a small goldfish bowl was laid before me, with three or four fingers of brandy in it, and in my insanity or general lack of self-control I duly drank it. Julian smoked with his brandy, and I wanted one of his cigarettes, they looked so fat and alluring, but I felt awkward about asking for one after so obstinately insisting that I had quit.

Julian was speaking, and Emily spoke also to a lesser extent between bites of her cake and sips of her coffee. They might as well have been speaking Chinese as far as I was concerned. I stared out across the room, which was emptying out now. Even Nicky and Norman and Truman and Flannery had gone. I was fading fast.

But then I realized that Julian was speaking to me, and this time I understood his words.

“Porter? So, Porter, is this okay with you?”

I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Because if it’s not --” he said.

Emily was holding one hand over her mouth, as if she were about to belch.

Perhaps Julian had just asked me to commit a dramatic suicide to pump up sales of my book.

“I mean,” he said, “only if it’s all right with you --”

“Um, uh,” what the hell, “sure,” I said.

Emily removed her hand from her mouth and gave a little jump in her seat.

“Oh, you won’t regret it, Porter!” she said, although just her having said that filled me with prospective regret.

“Good,” said Julian. “My old man might think me insane, but who cares? Now, if we’re going to beat this On the Highway book --”

On the Road,” corrected Emily.

“If we’re going to beat this Kerouac guy’s book to the shops you two are going to have to get right to work on the manuscript.”

“Right to work?” I said.

“Don’t worry, Porter,” said Julian, “as editor Emily will be doing the real heavy lifting --”

“Oh, but thank you again, Mr. Smythe,” said Emily. “I won’t let you down for giving me this, this amazing opportunity --”

“Well, I grant you, Emily, it is a drastic leap, to go in just a couple of weeks all the way from the typing pool to editing a major new work on which probably rests the whole fate of our firm --”

“And possibly the course of twentieth-century literature,” said Maxie, laying a leather folder in front of Julian.

“Ah, so you’ve been listening, Maxie,” said Julian.

“Like a elephant,” said Maxie. “And I just wanna say I’m sure Mr. Walker’s book is a gonna be a slam bang smasheroo.”

“Really? Even though it’s poetry?”

“Poetry schmoetry, it don’t matter,” said Maxie. “Me, workin’ in this joint? I seen ‘em come, I seen ‘em go. Ernie Hemingway? Scotty Fitzgerald? Wild Bill Faulkner? I waited on all them guys --”

“And gals,” said Emily.

“And dames, too,” said Maxie. “Dotty Parker, Clare Luce, Pearlie Buck, even ol’ Edie Wharton, and I wanna tellya, I ain’t never seen a writer so nice and quiet and polite as Mr. Walker. So I’m sure his book’s gonna be a sockeroo, even despite the fact it’s a epic poem.”

“Well, the voice of the people has spoken, then,” said Julian.

“That’s me,” said Maxie.

Julian had taken out his wallet, and he threw a wad of twenties into the leather folder after only the most cursory glance at the enclosed bill.

Maxie picked up the folder.

“You take Homer,” said Maxie. “He wrote epic poems and he’s still in print.”

“You’re so right,” said Julian.

“Or John Milton,” said Maxie.

“Right,” said Julian.

“Goddam Dante Alighieri,” said Maxie.

“Right, still in print too,” said Julian.

“The goddam Inferno,” said Maxie. “Story of my goddam life.”

“Well, thanks a lot, Maxie,” said Julian. “Keep the change by the way.”

“Thank you, Mr. Smythe,” said Maxie. But he wasn’t finished. “Beowulf,” he said. “The goddam Mahabarata.”

“Okay --” said Julian.

The Song of Roland,” said Maxie. “The Niebelungelied, fer Chrissake.”

“Haven’t read that one,” said Julian. (I of course hadn’t read any of them. But maybe Porter had.)

“All’s I’m sayin’ is there’s a great tradition of epic poetry,” said Maxie.

“Right, that’s so true, Maxie,” said Julian.

“Is all I’m sayin’.”

“Right. Thank you very much, Maxie,” said Julian.

“All I’m sayin’. God bless you, Mr. Walker.”

“Oh.” I still hadn’t gotten used to my new name. “Well, thanks, uh --”

“Maxie,” he said.


“You ain’t like them other bums, Mr. Walker. Hemingway, Steinbeck, John O’Hara. Bums. You, you’re a regular guy. I mean for a writer and all. A poet and all. You’re a mensch.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“Thank you, Maxie,” said Julian.

“I’ll go now,” said Maxie, and off he went, weaving slightly, but managing not to knock anything over.

“Well, that was weird,” said Julian.

“He was drunk,” said Emily.

“Yes,” said Julian. “But can you blame him?”

We got up and left the room.

Out in the lobby Julian said, “Can I drop you somewhere, Porter? I’m going uptown --”

“Porter lives downtown,” said Emily.

“I can still drop you, Porter, ” said Julian, but I could tell he didn’t really want to. I figured he was probably as ready to take a nap as I was.

“That’s okay, Julian,” I said.

“Well, suit yourself,” he said.

We went through the lobby and at the entrance a doorman opened the door for us.

“A cab, Mr. Smythe?”

“Yes, thank you, Benny.”

We trooped outside, the daylight was bright, although everything was still in black and white. The sidewalk was busy with people, the street was full of cars, and after the air-conditioned dining room the air was hot and dirty and smelled of car exhaust. The buildings stretched many stories up to a faraway white river of sky.

Benny ducked across the sidewalk, blowing a whistle, and immediately a Yellow cab pulled up.

“You take this one, Porter,” said Julian, shaking my hand.

I didn’t argue, I was too sleepy. The doorman opened the back door of the cab and I climbed in.

For some reason I had assumed that Emily was coming with me, but she stayed by Julian’s side. The doorman closed the car door and Julian leaned through the front window and handed the driver a five-dollar bill.

“Take my friend downtown, and keep the change, pal.”

“Gee, thanks, buddy,” said the driver.

“’Bye, Porter,” said Emily, leaning forward and waving. “We’ll start work tomorrow.”

“Yeah, sure,” I said.

“Bright and early! Don’t stay out drinking at the San Remo or the Kettle of Fish all night!”

The driver pulled out, and as we joined the stream of traffic I felt myself disappearing again, starting to slip away into whatever limbo a character in a novel goes away to when he’s not on the page.

I sat upright, concentrating, staring out the window at the all the people passing by on the sidewalk. These people were real, they had their own lives, and I would have mine.

“You all right, Jack?” said the driver.

He was looking at me in the rearview mirror.

“Oh, uh, sure,” I said. “I was just – thinking about something.”

“Okay,” he said.

He looked a little like the actor William Bendix. Maybe he was William Bendix.

“So," he said, "where to, exactly, bud?”

“Where to?”

“Yeah. What's the address ya wanna go to?”

That was a good question.

(Continued here, and until every last one of those dozens and dozens of Arnold’s marble copybooks has been transcribed.

(Please go to the right hand side of this page to find a current listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, soon to be published in series of value-priced pocket-size volumes, suitable for reading on the bus or train or while standing in some interminable line, available exclusively at Woolworth’s shops everywhere.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 38: on hold

Our hero Buddy Best, who after all is just a man, has succumbed to the charms of his new publicist, Marjorie Goldsmith...

(Click here to go to our previous episode; the curious may go here to return to the beginning of Uncle Buddy’s House©. “Just what the world has been clamoring for, a tacky and tawdry tale of a middle-aged Tinseltown playboy.” -- J.J. Hunsecker, in The AARP Monthly.)

It had been a long time, and who was Buddy to complain? (They used a condom; he had bought a packet of the extra-thin ones that week, just in case he ever managed to get someone to have sex with him again.) It lasted about twenty minutes, which seemed reasonable, and afterwards they lay there spoonwise, dozing for a bit, or at least Buddy was dozing, one hand on one of her small firm breasts (lightly implanted, not as nice as Cordelia’s real ones, but what the hell). Someone’s cellphone rang, it was hers, she reached down to the floor for her purse and got it out, and Buddy caressed her small backside as she did so.

“Hullo? Oh, Audrey, darling, how are you? Oh. Oh. Oh, yes, no, of course I didn’t forget. Of course not. I -- had a puncture. Yes, a flat. And it took simply forever for the AA chaps to get there. Oh, no. No. Yes, I’m at the garage now and I’m on my way. On my way. Be there in, oh, say, twenty minutes. Fabulous. See you soon. Mwah.” (The mwah was a telephone air-kiss.)

She poked the off button.

“Cow,” she said into the phone. “Rude cow.”

She swung her legs onto the floor.

“What’s the problem?” said Buddy.

“Completely forgot I dropped my daughter off at this heifer’s place for a playdate.” She stood up, turned, and looked at Buddy. ”Completely skipped my mind.”


She started gathering her clothes from the floor and getting dressed.

“Sorry to bolt, darling. Must go to the corral and fetch her. Then I must cook something for dinner.”

“So you cook, too?”

“Do I not. I should have you over someday. Don’t worry, just joking.”

“What’s your husband do?”

“Entertainment lawyer.”


“Stay in bed, darling. I’ll see myself out. You look sleepy. You have my cell number.”


“And I of course have yours.”

She was almost dressed now.

“Well, I must dash,” she said. “Give me a kiss.”

They did this, and she wasn’t even perfunctory about it. Then:

“Oh, I think I’ve got Entertainment Weekly interested in doing a story about you chaps. You know, feisty little independent company.”

“We’re not really all that independent.”

“Who is? So would you mind being interviewed?”

“Nope. I love being interviewed. It so rarely happens.”

“Splendid. And darling don’t stress out about this mystery woman. Women aren’t all that mysterious once you get to know them.”

“True,” said Buddy.

She left, and Buddy lay back, smelling her not-unpleasant sex smell in the bedclothes.

The phone rang, his house phone. He picked it up and said hello, but whoever it was on the other end said nothing, so he hung up. He star-69’d, but a voice came on and said the number was outside his service area.


Buddy fell into a thick sleep, and then he was woken up out of it by his cellphone ringing.

“Hi,” he said.

“It’s me again,” she said.

“I know.”

“You sound funny.”

“I was sleeping.”

“I’m sorry, should I call you back?”

“No, no, I’m awake now.”

“No, you sleep, I’ll call back.”

“No, really, Cordelia, it’s nice to hear your voice.”


“Yeah, how was your day off?”

“Nice. I walked around. I bought a book and read for a long time in a coffee shop.”


Another one of their little pauses occurred here.


“Tonight a couple of the girls in the show are going to a bar and they asked me to come.”


Buddy couldn’t hear her breathing but he imagined that he could.

“So did you get some work done today?” she asked, quietly.

“Well, it turned out all I really had to do was think up a new title for our movie and then have lunch with our publicist. Working lunch, you know.”

“Uh-huh. What’s the new title?”

Nikki Palmer. Nikki with two k’s and an i.”

“Hmm. What was the old title?”

Triggerwoman II.”

Nikki Palmer is better.”

“Yeah, well --”

“I’m in bed myself now,” she said.

“Ah, my favorite place.”

“Me too.”

“Gonna take a little nap?”

“Yeah, probably.”


“I’d like to talk for a while first though.”

“Okay,” said Buddy. “What should we talk about?”

“Mmm,” she said.



“You said 'Mmm'.”



“What?” she whispered.

“You want me to talk talk.”

“If you want to.”


“Do you want to?”

“To talk? Sure --”

“I mean,” she was whispering, “do you want to do it with me?”

“Um --”

“I know, I’m a pervert.”

“No, not at all, it’s just --”

“You think it’s weird.”

“No. You go right ahead.”

“I want you to do it too.”

“Um, the thing is, I already did.”

“Just now?”

“No -- uh -- before my nap. But you go right ahead.”


Now he actually could hear her breathing, but then his house phone rang.

“Shit, Cordelia, I’ve got another call and I think it might be Deirdre wanting me to pick her up. Can I put you on hold for just a second?”


He picked up the other phone and said hello, but whoever the fuck was on the other end didn’t say anything. Buddy hung it up and put Cordelia back on.

“Hey, it’s me again.”

“Hi,” she said, breathing faster.


After she rang off he lay there for a while and relived this most recent conversation with Cordelia, and although he hadn’t touched himself during it he now began to do so.

The cellphone rang again and this time it was Deirdre.

“Where are you? You were supposed to pick me up at six because the two weirdos here are going out to a Bulgarian wine tasting, and he’s afraid to leave me in the house alone because he thinks I’ll invite all my teenage dyke girlfriends over and have a fucking sex orgy, remember?”

“Oh, sorry, I -- uh --”

The night table clock said 6:32.

“Well, look, come and get me, okay?”

“Right, hang in there, I’m on my way.”

(Continued here, and until Buddy discovers the true meaning of life.)

(Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find a quite frequently up-to-date listing of links to all other published episodes of Uncle Buddy’s House™, soon to be a major motion picture from Larry Winchester Productions (a division of Walmart), starring Clark Gable as Buddy, Greer Garson as Marjorie, and featuring the lovely Simone Simon as Cordelia.)

Friday, February 19, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 187: celebrity

Not just once but twice our memoirist Arnold Schnabel has managed to discomfit the Prince of Darkness, and now that vindictive fallen angel has taken his revenge by transporting our hero into Ye Cannot Quench, a novel Arnold had been forcing himself to read out of a perhaps misplaced sense of obligation to its author, the hot-blooded Miss Gertrude Evans. In Arnold’s new persona as the handsome and romantic young poet Porter Walker he is lunching at the Algonquin with the novel’s comely young protagonist Emily and her employer, the strapping publisher and bon vivant Julian Smythe, when who should stop by their table but the public relations man Nicky Boskins, who turns out to be none other than the aforesaid chief demon in human guise…

(Click here to go to our previous episode; go here to return to that long-ago first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning saga.)

So, it was not enough that he had trapped me in the sort of novel I didn’t even like to read, but he had joined me in its cast of characters, no doubt just to mock me and torture me and generally annoy me preparatory to dragging me down to the fires of hell.

“Just do everything Nicky tells you to do,” said Julian. (He chewed his steak as he spoke, but he was one of those rare people who can chew and talk at the same time and not be disgusting about it. I have no idea how this is done. I can chew with the best of them, and I believe I’m pretty good about keeping my mouth shut while doing so, but if I try to talk and chew simultaneously I always feel as if everyone is staring at my mouth, waiting for a morsel of food either to come flying out across the table or, conversely, to get stuck in my throat, cutting off my verbal brilliance in mid-sentence along with my access to oxygen and spoiling the party for everyone.) “He’ll get you on the TV, he’ll arrange some interviews with the papers and magazines. He’ll set up a photo shoot for you. What do you think, Emily, a shot of Porter leaning over the old typewriter, a trail of cigarette smoke setting off his noble features?”

“Oh, golly --” she said.

“Or maybe just one of those three-quarter profiles, staring off into wherever it is poets stare off into. But again with the cigarette smoke. The cigarette is essential. Oh, but wait, I haven’t seen you smoke yet, Porter. You do smoke, don’t you?”

This was a good question. I, Arnold, had given up the vile weed, I hoped permanently, but Porter (I remembered from what I’d read of Miss Evans’s novel) was as much of a smoker as I had been until yesterday (my yesterday, not his), if not more so. But I was determined to fight against Miss Evans’s plotting, no matter how arbitrarily, and so I said:

“In fact I’ve given up smoking.”

“You’re kidding me. Why?”

“Smoker’s cough. Fear of cancer.”

“Cancer? What an idea.”

I forgot, we were in 1957.

“Well, it’s possible, isn’t it?” I said.

“Sure, Porter, it’s possible, but, hell, next thing you’ll be telling me that this delicious T-bone I’m eating is going to give me a heart attack. Or that a couple of martinis at lunch with a bottle or two of wine is a bad thing.”

“Personally I think a man looks ever so attractive with a cigarette,” said Emily. “And even more so with a pipe.”

“There ya go, we’ll get you a pipe, Porter, how about that? A writer always looks good with a pipe. What do you say?”

“Well, I don’t know --”

“I’d suggest a cigar but you don’t seem the cigar type to me.”

“Porter’s too refined for a cigar,” said Emily. “But with a pipe I think he’d look quite distinguished.”

She was sounding suspiciously like Miss Evans now, the Miss Evans that sounded like Katharine Hepburn.

“Some new clothes, too,” said Julian. “Something classier if you don’t mind my saying so than that department-store seersucker that’s hanging on you like a collapsed pup-tent.”

Emily blushed, and I felt bad about Julian’s unwitting aspersion on her sartorial taste, so I spoke up:

“I like this jacket,” I said.

“Yeah, but you’re a poet, you’re not meant to care how you look.”

“I think he looks fine,” dared to say Emily.

Julian gave her only the briefest of glances.

“We’ll make an appointment with my tailor,” said Julian. “Fix you up with a few nice suits. And don’t worry, I’ll put it on the publicity budget.”

Okay, this is how it begins, I thought. The pipe, the custom-made suits. Soon they would have me riding to the hounds and writing noble stanzas for presidential inaugurations.

“Listen, Julian,” I said. “I’m happy with the clothes I have, and I don’t like pipes.”

“Okay, fair enough, but won’t you at least smoke a cigarette when you’re getting your photos shot?”

“I’m not smoking and I’m not getting photographed either.”

“But, Porter, what are we going to put on the book jacket if not your photograph?”

“No photograph,” I said.

“Porter --” said Emily.

“Wait,” said Julian. He took a drink of wine, seemed to swish it around in his mouth, and then swallowed it. “Boy, that’s good,” he said.

“Porter, you’re being entirely unreasonable,” said Emily. In her apparent consternation she sounded a little less like Katharine Hepburn now. She sounded more like Bette Davis for some reason. “In fact, you’re being frightful.”

“No,” said Julian. “In point of fact I think Porter’s behaving brilliantly.”

“Say what?” said Emily, slipping into what I suppose was her native West Virginian accent.

“Think of it, Emily,” said Julian. “An author, a poet -- and a good-looking fellow, too -- who shuns fame and all its trappings. Who doesn’t want to be known for how he looks or dresses. Who lives only for his whaddyacallit, his, uh --”

“His art?” suggested Emily.

“His goddam art,” said Julian. “It’s perfect. Now I’m wondering if it’s better after all if we don’t put you on Paar and Allen and Eddy Murrow.”

“I’m not going on television either,” I said.

Julian cocked his head slightly, and then smiled.

“Why am I not surprised?” he said. “That’s brilliant, old boy. Just brilliant.”

“Thank you,” I said.

He sawed off the last surviving chunk of his sixteen-ounce T-bone.

“So,” he said, popping the meat into his mouth, “I guess radio and print interviews are completely out of the question?”

“No,” I said, “I mean, yes, sorry, no interviews.”

“Brutal,” said Julian. “Absolutely brutal, but I like it. Man of mystery. The last true poet. The public will eat it up. But, hey, just to get the word out a little, how about if we just get, say, little Truman over there to follow you around for a day or two and knock off a ten or twenty-thousand word profile for the New Yorker? We’ll get him to emphasize the rebel angle.”

As he said this last bit he waved his fork at one of the short men at the table with Nicky, and the little man waved back enthusiastically.

“No thanks,” I said.

“Okay,” said Julian, “Truman can get to be a bit much, I’ll grant you that -- so what about Norman over there then? He’ll do it, he’s always looking for his next by-line.”

He waved at the other short man, and this guy waved back also, although less enthusiastically than the other one.

“Norman can write it for the Village Voice maybe, that’s probably more suitable for you, anyway. Then Nicky can get someone at the New Yorker to write a "Talk of the Town" piece about Norman’s piece. Just be careful if you have drinks with Normy though, he starts to think he’s Irish when he gets drunk and next thing you know the barstools are flying --”

“Um, I don’t think so,” I said.

“You mean you won’t be careful or you won’t have drinks with him?”

“I mean I don’t want anybody writing a, uh --”


“-- a profile about me.”

“Oh, Porter,” said Emily, again.

“It’s not like a regular interview,” said Julian. “All you gotta do is hang out with some fool writer for a bit, and then he --”

“Or she,” chimed in Emily.

“Right,” said Julian; “or she -- make a note, Emily, maybe we’ll get Lillian Ross to do it -- anyway, Porter, all you gotta do is just do what you normally do all day, except you’ve got some journalist following you around.”

“But if I have some journalist following me around all day then I wouldn’t be doing what I normally do.”

“Porter,” said Emily.


“Why are you being so -- contumacious?”

“I don’t know what that means,” I said, quite honestly.

“It means you’re being as, as stubborn as a mule!”

In her excitement she had slipped back into her country accent.

“An absolute mule!” she said, and now she sounded like Bette Davis again, but with a southern accent.

Julian chuckled, and polished off the wine in his glass.

And all of a sudden I got bored with myself. I had been trying to assert myself as my own character, but now that I thought about it for a second, wasn’t I only acting the way Miss Evans might have decided my character should act? I was just about to relent and tell Julian to bring on the profilers, the photographers and TV shows, he could put me on the burlesque circuit for all I cared, but then he spoke:

“No, Emily,” he said. “Y’know what? Porter’s right. I mean if you’re going to shun the limelight what’s the point of half-measures? And the funny thing is --” He picked up the red wine bottle, which was almost empty. “You want some more, Porter?”

“No thanks,” I said. To tell the truth I felt ready for a nap.

Julian poured the last of the wine into his own glass.

“The funny thing is,” he said, “that I’m sure our boy Nicky will work out a plan to take your aversion to fame and use it to make you even more famous than you’d be if you were the typical writer who’d trample over his own mother for a chance to be on Art Linkletter.”

(Continued here; Arnold after all is really only just getting started.)

(Kindly refer to the right hand column of this page to find a rigorously up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. “Schnabel is the logical culmination of St. Augustine, of Rousseau, of Proust, of Joyce, of Alfred E. Newman.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Maury Povich Show.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 37: Marjorie

On a fine spring morning the camera roams over the hills above Los Angeles and then suddenly sails down over Hollywood, finally circling above the tiled roof of a Mission/Tudor house on North Ivar Avenue and then swooping into a second-floor window, where we find Buddy Best, that handsome middle-aged devil, lying pensively in his bed with his cellphone in his hand...

(Go here to read our previous episode, or click here to go back to the beginning of Uncle Buddy’s House©. “A sad and sordid tale, but one the author apparently felt had to be told.” -- J.J. Hunsecker, in The Olney Times.)

Buddy programmed her number (Philip had only recently taught him how to perform this operation), then put the phone down on the night table. Then he lay there in bed, wishing that Cordelia were in bed with him, provided that no one else was in the house and that no one else would be coming back into the house for a suitable amount of time.

He started to masturbate, thinking about Cordelia; then he stopped masturbating but continued to think about Cordelia.

But, no. No. Uh-uh. Just get over that.

However, he could just go ahead and change his mind, cast sanity to the winds and call her back on her new cellphone and ask her to come down after all. Go out to dinner someplace. Someplace obscure. Rent a hotel room...

No. Bad idea.


He picked up his cellphone.

Or, maybe after all it would be better instead if he flew up to Vancouver. It was true, he had stuff to do today, but he could still catch a plane up there tonight. What the fuck --

Or, he could do the sensible thing and just go ahead and finish masturbating, take a nap...

He lay there for a while longer.

The cellphone rang.

Air swelled into his lungs and blood swelled up into his brain. Let it be her, fuck it.

It was Debbie Greenberg.

“Hi, Deb,” he said, “I’m on my way, I had to drop Deirdre off, and --”

“No,” she said. “I don’t want you to come in, Buddy. What we need, what Marjorie needs, is a title for the movie. She says we really need one by Monday for the PR program.”

“Marjorie. Who’s the hell is Marjorie?”

“Marjorie Goldsmith. The publicist.”

“Oh, right.” Buddy automatically sort of pretended he remembered the name; he was cognizant that Sony had hooked them up with this publicist who was supposed to be a hotshot, but he hadn’t met her yet. Or at least he was pretty sure he hadn’t met her yet.

“Harvey and Iggy both say they’re totally stumped for a title,” said Debbie.


“So what we’d like you to do is just stay home and think of a title, then call Marjorie and tell her what it is.”

“Oh, okay.”

What the hell, it beat going down to the office.

“Give me her number,” he said.

“I’ll give you her cell,” said Debbie. “By the way, how’s your love life?”

“Just give me the fucking number, Deb.”

She did this, he wrote the number down, and then he successfully programmed it into his cellphone. He lay there for a while, and then he dragged his ass out of bed and started to get dressed.

Dead something was always good. Dead Wrong. Dead Right. Dead People. Dead what? Dead Corpses...

He went down to the kitchen and thought about making coffee. No one else seemed to be home. Dead, dead, dead fucking whatever. Dead Whatever. Dead Whatever? No.

Wait. Dead Wrong? That didn't suck. Not too much, anyway.

He had walked downstairs cellphone in hand, and now he punched this Marjorie Goldsmith’s number. He was expecting an annoyingly upbeat L.A. voice but got this pleasantly upper-crusty English accent.

“Buddy, so glad you called.”

“Well, Marjorie, I hear you need a title for our little masterpiece.”

“That would be nice, yes.”

“Okay, how’s this: Dead Wrong?”

Dead -- Wrong.”

She was quiet for a bit. He could hear traffic noise.

“Are you in your car, Marjorie?”

“Yes, I am.”

“So whaddaya think? Too stupid?”

“No, I absolutely love it. However, I just checked on my little mini-computer and unfortunately the title’s been used before. Several times in fact. Not that that is an insurmountable obstacle, the other films are fairly obscure, but still, it would be nice to have something brand new --”

Her little mini-computer -- he’d hate to be driving on the same stretch of freeway with this babe.

“Wait,” said Buddy.


“Our heroine’s name is Nikki Palmer. Why don’t we just call it Nikki Palmer. Nikki with two k’s and an i.”

Nikki Palmer -- I like that.”

“And then for sequels we can have like, uh, Nikki’s Back. Nikki’s Big Score.”

Nikki in Africa.”

“Right,” said Buddy.

“I like it, Buddy. I do. I really like it.”

“Good, let’s go with that. No, wait, we better check with Harvey and Iggy first.”

“Right-o. What are you doing for lunch?”

“Nothing planned.”

“Let me give you lunch to celebrate your lovely new title.”

“Sure, what the hell.”

“How does The Ivy sound?”

“Fine if you’re buying.”

“Expense account, darling. Sony’s buying. Shall I pick you up?”


They had a very nice lunch, a little too frou-frou for Buddy’s taste, but the fact that Sony was picking up the tab made it that much nicer. Marjorie was a charming and pretty blonde, maybe even a real blonde, with a short hair-do like Petula Clark circa 1965. She was forty or thereabouts, maybe a bit more, very well put together, very small but with very high heels, and she turned out to be South African, although she sounded pretty British to Buddy. She wore a wedding ring and made a couple of references to kids, presumably her own. She drove him home in her pink Maserati and she cooed at the sight of his house, although she hadn’t said anything at all about the house when she picked him up.

“Oh, Buddy, it is so Raymond Chandler.”

“Thank you.”

“May I pop in? I love these old Hollywood domiciles.”


So they went in and he gave her the tour of the downstairs and the back yard.

They came back into the kitchen and Buddy offered her a glass of wine and she accepted. She’d only drunk Evian water at the restaurant, although Buddy had had a couple of glasses of wine, and now, since he’d already decided he was going to take a nap, he poured himself another one, some Montrachet he’d bought when Sony had upped their budget. He sat at the kitchen table but Marjorie strolled around looking at and touching things.

“So you’re separated from your wife, Buddy.”

He hadn’t told her anything at all about his domestic life, but, then again, she was a PR person, part of her job was to know shit. And, also, of course, she was a woman.

“Yeah,” he said. “She left about a month ago.”

“Any chance of a reconciliation?”

“I doubt it. She’s living with her boyfriend, the guy she left me for.”

“And this man is -- Stephen --”

“Yeah, the bad guy in our movie. The bad cop.”

“Oh dear. Sorry.”

“I don’t mind. In fact I’m glad.”


“Yeah. I mean I wish for her sake she had found someone who’s less of a complete and utter bore-ass, such a vile and repellent fool, but, you know --”

“Oh, dear.”

“Yeah, well --”

She sat down across from him, eyes wide open, staring at him.

“I love your movie by the way --”

“So you’ve seen it?”

“Yes, Debbie gave me a DVD and I think it’s going to be an absolute smash.”

“Well, that’s still a pretty rough cut, y’know, and it’s only got a scratch score on it --”

“I love the scratch score.”

“Well, uh, it’ll get better when Lenny’s real score is on it.”

“I’m certain it will be. I’ve been watching all your movies on tape and DVD, they’re absolutely riveting.”

“Well, we try to make ‘em entertaining.”

“Did you know that Tarantino is a fan of yours?”

“What? Really?”

“Oh, absolutely. Absolutely loves your films. He told me so.”

“Well, shit, tell him I said thanks. I like his stuff too. Is he one of your clients?”

“Oh, no, but some of his friends are my clients, and, Buddy, handsome bloke that you are I dare say you’ve already got a frisky little bangtail or two prancing about in your pasture neighing your name.”

“What? Uh, no. No, not really. No bangtails. Not yet.”

“Oh I doubt that.”

“Well, it’s true, sad to say --”

“But you said and I quote ‘not really’.”

“Well -- wait, has Debbie been talking to you?”

“Debbie Greenberg?”


“You mean about you?”


“Only in the most utmost professional manner I assure you. Why? Is there some dirt about you I might find amusing?”

“Um, never mind.”

“Is there a mystery woman in your life?”

“Well, if there were, Marjorie, if I told you about her she wouldn’t be a mystery any more, would she?”

“But I’m your publicist, darling. I must know these things.”

Oh, boy.

“You haven’t touched your wine, Marjorie. That’s good
stuff --”

Still looking at him she raised the glass and drank half of it down.

“Yes, quite good. Now, Mr. Still-waters-run-deep --”

“Okay, Marjorie, look, there’s no mystery woman, okay?”

And why the fuck was it any of her business? Women were insane.

“Vital manly fellow like you, you must have loads of children I presume?”

“Oh, sure, loads. Actually I’ve just got two, grown ones, who have just moved back in with me. Oh, yeah, and a stepdaughter --”

“But no kids lurking about the house now?”

“Uh, I don’t think so, unless they’re upstairs sleeping or shooting up or something.”

She popped up to her feet, all five-foot-two of her plus a few inches of heels.

“You didn’t show me the upstairs.”

Buddy didn’t pop up.

“Uh, Marjorie, are you coming on to me?”

“What ever gave you that idea? So, are you going to show me the upstairs, Buddy Best?”

“Um --” Buddy hesitated, thinking very quickly Why Not? and Why? and I just want to take a nap, and lots of other things in the space of three seconds and then said, “Listen, Marjorie, there really is a mystery woman.”

“Is there, really?” and suddenly she had slipped down onto his lap. And she was one of those women who didn’t feel like a sack of potatoes on your lap. She took off his eyeglasses and put them on herself.

“Do you always wear these?”

“No. Mostly just to drive, or watch TV, that sort of thing.”

“So you don’t need them for close-up work.”

“No. In fact I see better without them close-up.”

“Good.” She took off the glasses and laid them on the table. “Is it quite tragic?”

“Is what quite tragic?”

“Your liaison with this alleged mystery woman.”

“I -- wouldn’t call it tragic.”

She opened her lips and inclined her small but busy head to one side. She and Buddy kissed.

“Any minute one of my kids will walk in,” said Buddy.

“Then maybe you should show me the upstairs.”

“Um --”

She looked at him, with one eyebrow cocked.

“Look, Marjorie, I can’t get into an affair right now.”

“What a pity. All because of this mystery bitch?”

It was easier to say yes, and he did.

“Right then.” She smiled. “Now, will you show me the upstairs?”

(Continued here, and until our funding dries up.)

(Please look to the right hand column of this page for a listing of links to all other available episodes of Uncle Buddy’s House™, "A sad commentary not only on the mores of the present-day picture business, but on the standards for what passes for a serious novel in these wretched times." -- J.J. Hunsecker in The Southwest Airlines Traveler.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 186: “Nicky”

Let us rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, who has been transported by that bastard the Prince of Darkness into a once-popular but now sadly-out-of-print novel of 1950s New York City called
Ye Cannot Quench, wherein he has assumed (or been assumed by) the character of Porter Walker, romantic but socially-maladroit poet, now lunching in the stately Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel with the dashing young publisher Julian Smythe and the plucky heroine of the novel, Emily...

(Click here to read our preceding episode; the curious may go here to return to that faraway first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 33-volume* memoir.)

*(And counting...)

The next few moments were awkward. At least for me they were; Julian didn’t seem bothered, and Emily silently sipped her wine as Julian continued to talk about baseball, for real this time.

From a few of his references (Don Larsen’s perfect game, the relative merits of Sandy Koufax and Whitey Ford, of Roy Campanella and Yogi Berra, etc.) my fine mind deduced that we were almost certainly in the year 1957.

1957: if memory served, the Yankees did win the American League pennant that year, while the Braves won in the National League; and, again, if my memory served properly -- and if this world in which I was trapped matched up in such matters with what I still thought of as the “real” world -- the Braves took that World Series in seven games (thanks in large part to the yeoman service of three complete outings from Lew Burdette).

I made a mental note to ask Julian for the name of a reliable bookie; if I found myself still marooned here come October I might need some extra cash to tide me over, especially if, as seemed likely, no one bought even a single copy of my epic poem, and the sliding scale of my prospective royalties remained stuck at zero.

The food arrived, and for the next several minutes I forgot I was merely a character in Miss Evans’s novel. The steak was delicious, served, at Julian’s insistence, only with freshly-ground pepper, kosher salt, and liberal dowsings of A-1 sauce. The bottle of white wine was empty by now, and Maxie the waiter poured some of the red wine into fresh glasses for Julian and myself. (To tell the truth I didn’t need it, I was getting ever so slightly drunk, but Julian would have none of my half-hearted protestations.) The wine was delicious, and I realized I hadn’t drunk any really good wine since the war, when it was sadly common for my engineers outfit to loot people’s cellars that hadn’t already been cleaned out by the infantry.

Julian ate and drank heartily and with what looked to be great enjoyment.

Emily delicately picked at her Dover sole in Hollandaise, still nursing her glass of the white wine, and gazing under her eyelids at Julian, who (having gotten business and cars and baseball out of the way) had launched into a description and critique of the new Lana Turner picture he had just seen.

“Problem was,” said Julian, “my date got all gooey-eyed on me.” I saw Emily start, as if someone had slapped her on the back. “You know when ladies get all gooey-eyed, Porter?”

“Gooey-eyed?” I stalled for time, trying to think of what Porter would say. “Right,” I finally said. “Like they have some sort of eye infection, and all this goo keeps seeping out.”

“Precisely,” said Julian, after only a slight pause.

Emily was staring straight at her plate, chewing.

“Emily,” said Porter, “you don’t get all gooey-eyed on your boyfriends, do you?”

I was working on the french fries now, with lots of ketchup. These were the good kind of fries, probably the kind that don’t come in frozen crates from a factory in Idaho.

“I -- uh, um, uh, heh heh, I -- uh --” Emily was babbling, almost as if she had just been asked a question she didn’t know the answer to on a quiz show and was on the verge of losing a free Frigidaire.

“So, Julian,” said a tall slim dark-haired man who had just come up to our table. He had a lit cigarette in a holder. “Is this the new Wunderkind?”

“Ah, Nicky,” said Julian, his mouth full of creamed onions, “pull up a chair, buddy.”

“I really can’t, old boy. Having lunch with Truman and Norman and Flannery over there.”

He gestured with his cigarette toward a table with two short men and a dark-haired woman.

“That crew,” said Julian, “they still get served here?”

“Well, you know, I put in a good word for them --”

“Good man,” said Julian. “Anyway, yes, this is Porter Walker, our new epic poet, voice of his generation and master of the subtle bon mot. Porter, meet Nicky Boskins. He’s our PR genius, he’ll be working with you.”

I half-stood, shook the man’s hand.

“Very pleased to know you, Mr. Walker. Or may I call you Porter?”

“Sure,” I said.

He continued to hold onto my hand, with a grip that was not only exceedingly steely for a slender fellow but disconcertingly warm.

“Good,” he said. “Call me Nicky.”

“Okay, Nicky,” I said, anything to get him to let go of my hand, which he finally did after one last unnerving squeeze.

I sat down and picked up my wine glass.

“And have you met Emily yet, Nicky?” asked Julian.

“No, I haven’t had the pleasure,” said Nicky. “Very pleased to meet you, Emily. I hear you’re our Porter’s fair and lovely champion.”

“Oh, my, but all I’ve done was to read his wonderful poem, and then tell Mr. Smythe --”

“It’s all her doing,” said Julian. He was holding the nearly-empty bottle of A-1 over his steak and slapping its bottom. “I would never have gotten around to reading the damn thing. I mean --” he turned to me -- “don’t get me wrong, Porter, it’s just that, you know -- poetry --” He shrugged one broad shoulder. (Well, they were both broad, but he only shrugged one of them.) “I mean --”

“I understand,” I said. “I wouldn’t have read it either.”

“Ha ha, what a card.”

“Now that is just the sort of thing you have to say when we get you on Jack Paar and Steve Allen,” said Nicky.

“Okay,” I said.

“Splendid. I think we’re going to be great friends. You look familiar by the way. Did I compete with you in lacrosse, or golf maybe? What school did you go to? Andover?”

“No. Hard Knocks,” I said.

“Heh heh, we’re going to be fabulous friends. But look, the Three Stooges over there are going to get drunk and wreck the place if I don’t rejoin them soon, so I’ll say ta-da for now to you kids.”

“Later, old man,” said Julian, sawing another huge chunk from his T-Bone.

Nicky went away. It had taken me a few moments to see through his masquerade, not only because of my usual lack of the novelist’s attention to detail, but also because he had shaved his moustache and had parted his hair differently; but this “Nicky” was in fact no other than my nemesis “Lucky”, the dark angel who had so vindictively thrust me into my present predicament.

(Continued here, and at the very least until hell freezes over.)

(Please cast an eye to the right hand column of this page to find a stringently up-to-the-minute listing of links to all other possible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. “The only book I brought with me on my recent sojourn in a remote monastery in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal.” -- Harold Bloom.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 36: two calls

Scene: Hollywood, California, a Mission/Tudor house on North Ivar Avenue, the house where C-List auteur Buddy Best lives with his two grown children and his teenage stepdaughter...

(Click here to go to our previous episode, or go here to return to the first chapter of Uncle Buddy’s House©. “Kinda sorta like ‘The Waltons Go to Tinseltown’.” -- J.J. Hunsecker, in The Daily Racing Form.)

Two nights later, Sunday night, Buddy and Philip were sitting at the kitchen table looking over Philip’s transformation of Return to Death Island Part III into (Presently Untitled) Part II when Buddy’s cellphone rang in his pocket. He took it out, it was some unknown number.


“Hi,” she said.

“Oh, hi, wait a minute.”

Buddy glanced at Philip, got up, went to the back door, opened it, went out, and shut the door behind him.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m back.”

“Is this a bad time?”

“No, not at all. How’s it going?”

“Okay I guess. I spent the weekend getting fitted for costumes and getting my hair styled and make-up tested. I like the outfits because you can’t see how fat my ass is.”

“Your ass isn’t fat.”

“Yes it is, but I’m wearing these like Victorian dresses, so it’s okay, but did you know I have a nude scene?”

“How would I know that?”

“Oh, I guess you wouldn’t.”

“Can’t wait till this movie comes out.”

“Fuck you! I don’t want the whole world looking at my fat ass.”

“You had a nude scene in that other movie, you looked great.”

“Buddy, I was thin then. I weighed like fifteen pounds less than I do now because I was living in New York and working at Barnes & Noble and all I could afford to eat was toast and cereal and salads. Well, I would get cookies and croissants at the coffee shop sometimes, but it was a good diet, really.”

“Yeah. So -- you gonna do the scene?”

“I told Joe I would do it but only if I’m lying on my back so my ass doesn’t show and so my breasts won’t sag so much.”

“Your breasts don’t sag.”

“I told him I didn’t care -- wait, you don’t think my breasts sag?”



“Not that I noticed.”


Buddy waited. He noticed a hazy line of whiteness on the dark ground bordering the bougainvillea hedge. He walked over, and a row of tiny white flowers came into focus. This was new.

“Buddy, are you still there?”


“Okay, I’m looking in the mirror with my top off, and my boobs sag.”

“Is anyone else there?”

“No, stupid, I’m in my hotel room.”

“Ah. What else are you wearing?”





“I’m looking from the side.”

“How’s it look?”

“They droop.”

“I think they look great.”



“Well, I don’t. I’m gonna have to starve myself. And I’m going to insist we do the scene with me lying on my back. And don’t patronize me.”


“Okay then.”

“So -- did Joe try to hit on you?”

“Y’know, I think he kind of wanted to but he was too tired because he was running around like a maniac all yesterday and today because we start shooting tomorrow.”

“Ah, good.”



“Should I call my father?”

“Sure, why not?”

“Well, before I went to Stephanie’s the other night I told him I never wanted to see or talk to him again.”


“I hate him. After the things he said the other day I just really hate him.”

“Oh. Well --”

“Don’t defend him.”


“But he is my father.”

“That’s true.”

“He doesn’t even know where I am.”

“So he doesn’t know about the movie?”

“No. But I’m thinking maybe I should call him just to let him know where I’m staying and all. And while I’m at it I can tell him what a jerk he is.”

“Well, you should probably call him. I’m sure he wants to know where you are at least. And chances are he feels guilty.”

“Oh, he’s great at feeling guilty.”

Buddy didn’t say anything. Talking about the Mariner was about the last thing he felt like doing.

“But I guess you don’t want to talk about him,” she said.

“I don’t mind,” he said. “What are you doing? You sound funny.”

“What’s it sound like I’m doing?”

“I’m not sure.”

“I was taking my pants off with the phone stuck in my neck.”

“Ah, are they off now?”

“Yes, pervert.”

“Ah. Now what are you doing?”

“Well, I’m going to go to bed now because they’re picking me up at like four in the morning to drive me to the location. First day of shooting tomorrow.”

“Break a leg.”


“Are you in bed now?”

“Yeah. D’you want to, um, talk for a while?”

“I better not. I’m in the middle of working on a screenplay rewrite with Philip.”

“Oh. Okay, tell him I say hi.”

“I will. Good night.”

“Good night.”

He went back inside.

“Don’t tell me,” said Philip.

“Okay, I won’t.”

“I don’t know how you do it, Dad.”

“Let’s get back to the script.”


He didn’t hear from her again until the following Saturday, around eleven a.m.

“Hi, Buddy?”


“It’s me.”

“I know it’s you.”

This full and busy week had gone by and now it was like it hadn’t happened.

“Can you hear me okay?”

“Clear as a bell.”

“I got a cellphone. I’ve joined the 21st Century.”

“Great. What are you doing?”

“Oh my God I’m still in bed. I ache all over. All I did yesterday was run up this stupid hill over and over again, supposedly being chased by this vampire. And then I had to fight the vampire. Oh, and wearing this Victorian dress.”

“You’re off today though, huh?”

“Yeah, today and tomorrow. What are you doing?”

“Well, I had to get up earlier but now I’m back in bed myself. I thought I’d try to take a nap.”

“Oh, do you want me to get off so you can sleep?”


“You’re sure.”

“Absolutely sure

“Why’d you have to get up early on a Saturday?”

“I had to drive Deirdre down to your father’s place. We worked it out where she goes there on the weekends.”

“Ah. That’s good. I guess.”

“She didn’t want to go there at all, but, well, we sort of made a deal with Joan and your dad.”

She was quiet.

“Did you ever call your dad?” said Buddy.

“I called a few days ago at nine-oh-five in the morning because he always goes down to the beach exactly at nine to do his tai chi exercises.”


“I didn’t want to talk to him, but I wanted to leave a message.”

“And what did you say?”

“Just that I would call him when I wasn’t so angry with him. But I didn’t tell him where I was or leave him a phone number. Has he talked to you?”

“Oh no. He seems to hide when I drop Deirdre off and pick her up.”

Another one of her long pauses happened here, and Buddy let it happen. Then --

“Look,” she said, “I don’t want to talk about him.”

“Fine with me.”

And she was quiet again.

“So,” said Buddy, “did you do your famous nude scene yet?”

“No. We’re still shooting out on location. We’re supposed to do that in a couple weeks back here in Vancouver. If I do it.”

“Ah, go ahead. Give the world a thrill.”

“Shut up.”


“So,” she said, “I guess you’re really tired if you went back to bed.”

“Yeah, it’s been a long week, and I’m supposed to go into the office again later today.”

“Buddy --”


“I’m gonna suggest something, and you can say no if you want to.”


“’Cause you probably don’t want to.”

“Uh-huh. And what would that be?”

“Look, I could catch a flight back to L.A. and be there tonight.”


“And we could hang out, jerk. I still owe you a dinner. I could stay at Stephanie’s, or -- fuck it, I could rent a hotel room even --”

“I don’t know.”


“Uh, I don’t know if it’s such a great idea.”


“You don’t want to see me?”


“I do want to see you. But I don’t know if it’s a good idea.”

“We could just have dinner.”

“Well, we could, but --”

“But what?”

“I don’t know.”

Neither of them said anything, and after a minute he looked at his phone’s screen and saw that they had gotten disconnected. No they hadn’t, she had hung up. The little weirdo. He folded up the phone and he lay there, saying fuck, fuck and fuck, and touching himself.

Then his phone rang again.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “That was really rude of me. And immature. No wonder you don’t --”

“Wait, Cordelia --”


“Listen, I’d love to see you, but here’s the thing. I told your old man I wouldn’t see you any more.”

She paused for one second, then --

“Who cares about him? He’s already made my life miserable a million times --”

“I’m sure he has, but I made a deal with him. I told him that if he would get Joan to allow Deirdre to stay here then I wouldn’t see you any more.”

“Oh. And this was his idea?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, I asked for his help, because Deirdre didn’t want to go there, and I figured he didn’t really give a shit, and then he pulled that one on me. So I said okay.”

“Oh my God I hate him, I hate him, I hate him.”


“I hate him.”

“Yeah, well, anyway --”


“Well, look, Cordelia, I like you, but really, you and me, it’s --”

“How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not looking for a boyfriend? Especially some old fart boyfriend? I just thought it’d be nice to see you, that’s all. But you automatically think it’s about sex. You big jerk.”

“Ah, our first argument.”

Very short pause, then --

“I guess it is about sex, isn’t it,” she said.

“Well, let me put it this way, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation if you were a boy.”


He could hear her breathing, and, already it was like a habit, he started touching himself again.

“I could come down anyway,” she said. “He doesn’t have to know about it.”

“Look, baby, I’m not going to skulk around and hide. Not from that asshole.”



“Fly up here! Come to Vancouver!”

“Whoa, wait a minute.”

“Why not? You’re rich.”

“Okay, first of all, I’m not rich --”

“You can afford it.”

“Okay, I can afford it, but -- all right, for one thing I’m supposed to do some work this afternoon, and then I have to pick up Deirdre and bring her back tonight, and then take her back to your dad’s tomorrow, and --”

“Get Philip to do it, or Liz. Or come to think of it, why can’t Joan do it?”

Now Buddy paused. Then --

“Look, Cordelia, I gave my word.”

“Oh. Right. To my father.”


She sighed.

“Well,” she said, “I’ve got my cellphone now. We can talk on the phone, right?”


“Okay. You should program my number.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that.”

“Okay,” she said. “Well,‘bye.”


And then she was gone.

(Continued here, and until there's not a dry eye in the house, and then one more step beyond.)

(Kindly go to the right hand column of this page to find what very well might be an up-to-date listing of links to all other published episodes of Uncle Buddy’s House™, soon to be a major motion picture starring Burt Lancaster and Barbara Stanwyck; directed by Anatole Litvak. A Hal Wallis Production from Paramount Pictures, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Walmart.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 185: fate

Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel -- not for his sins but because he has dared to do battle with the Prince of Darkness -- has been transported by the aforesaid vindictive fallen angel into an artistically dubious but once-popular novel called Ye Cannot Quench, wherein he inhabits the body if not the personality of a romantic young poet named Porter Walker in the New York City of the 1950s, that time and place of John Cheever and Jack Kerouac, of bone-dry martinis and unfiltered cigarettes, of My Fair Lady on Broadway and of live dramatic broadcasts on Playhouse 90...

(Go here to read our previous chapter; click here to return to the first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning masterpiece.)

“Well, I was just wondering, Porter, since you two are friends and all, what’s up with our little Emily? I mean what’s her baseline, anyway?”

I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant by baseline, but I could guess; I knitted my brow briefly, trying to recall what I had read in the first few chapters of Miss Evans’s novel and on the inside of the book jacket.

I took another drink of wine, and spoke:

“Young girl from a little town in West Virginia. Went to a small college out there. Studied literature. Has had one mysterious affair with a hometown boy, but that’s over now, for some undisclosed reason, or reasons. Comes to New York to experience life. Meets an old rag-and-bones woman in a coffee shop who tells her she will find fortune and love in the city. Gets a job at your firm. Meets this poet guy named Porter --”

“You,” said Julian.

“Yes,” I said. “Uh, me. ‘Me.’ Then, uh, you give her Porter’s manuscript to read.”

“Your manuscript,” said Julian. “Stop speaking of yourself in the third person, Porter. It’s kind of creepy.”

“Sorry,” I said. “Anyway, she reads the poem. For some reason she likes it.”

“You’re very modest about your work,” said Julian.

I shrugged. What did I care? It wasn’t my work.

“Go on,” he said.

“Well, that’s about it,” I said. I didn’t want to get into the night of passion. Even as Porter I had some sense of discretion.

“Well, I was just wondering,” said Julian, “I mean if it’s not, um, untoward of me to ask -- what’s going on with you and our Emily? If anything. I mean if you don’t mind my asking.”

“What’s, uh, going on?”

I was stalling of course.

“Yeah,” said Julian. He noticed the cigarette ash he had spilled onto the tablecloth, and he swiped it with the side of his hand, causing it to smear into the material. “I mean if I’m not being too much of a Nosey Parker.”

“Nothing is going on,” I said. “I mean, nothing much.”


He was still leaning across the table towards me, looking me openly right in the face. I looked away.

“Um, no,” I said. “We’re, uh --”

“She’s told me you two are by way of being ‘friends’. That you helped her move into her new apartment.”

“Oh?” I said.

I picked up my glass of wine again, took another drink.

“I think this whole deal is an awfully funny coincidence,” said Julian. “That I would give her your manuscript to read, and then it turns out that she’s already a friend of yours.”

“Well,” I said, “I suppose that is a kind of an odd coincidence, in a way.”

“Like something out of a novel,” said Julian. “Or a movie.”

“Yes,” I said. “Usually life is -- uh --”

“Not so neatly plotted?”

“Yes,” I said.

Of course I could have just come right out and told him that in fact we were only characters in a novel, but I couldn’t bear to do that. He seemed like a nice enough guy. And I knew that I wouldn’t like to be told that I was only a figment of someone’s imagination, especially a figment that was based on God only knows how many other figments from various stories and novels and movies and TV shows, not to mention comic strips.

“Maybe it’s fate,” he said.

Finally he leaned back. He picked up his glass, took a drink.

“Do you believe in fate, Porter?” he asked.

I realized right then and there that I did not believe in fate. Fate would be too easy. Just as religion was too easy, any religion. Or astrology. Or Tarot cards. And you could toss in the Ouija board while you were at it.

“So, you do believe in fate,” he said.

“Sure,” I lied, because, really, people need something, something to hang onto, and even if I personally had nothing to hang on to, even if I were left floating here in space on my own, who was I to deny others some small measure of comfort?

“Fate,” he said, and he seemed satisfied with the word.

He glanced at his wine glass, in his right hand, and then at his cigarette, in his left hand. Which to choose, wine or smoke?

He decided on the smoke, and after taking a good drag he took a drink of wine.

“So, really,” he said, smiling, “you two haven’t -- uh -- you know --”

“Well, Mr. Smythe --”

“Julian, Porter.”

“Okay. Julian --”

“Go on,” he said.

All discretion aside, I considered my situation for just a moment. On the one hand I knew that Porter had indeed gone to bed with Emily. But on the other hand I, Arnold, had only woken up in the same bed with her. So of the two available truths I chose the more innocuous one.

“We, uh, Emily and I, we haven’t gone to bed together, if that’s what you mean,” I said.

“Really? Scout’s honor?”

That was easy, because I had never been a boy scout, nor even a cub.

“Scout’s honor,” I said.

“And no desire to?” he asked.

Well, this one was easy.

“No,” I said.

“Why not? She’s a very attractive girl.”

Where to begin. How to begin. I sighed, looked at my wine glass. Somehow it had become empty.

Julian took up the wine bottle and refilled my glass.

“Porter, my friend, your silence speaks volumes. Absolute volumes.”

He refilled his own glass.

“Some girls --” he said.

He swirled the wine around in his glass, put the glass to his nose, closed his eyes and breathed in through his nostrils. He opened his eyes.

“Some girls,” he said, “are just a little bit too much like work.”

He took a drink of his wine.

“Damn, that’s good stuff,” he said. “Don’t you agree?”

“Yeah, it’s good wine,” I said.

“No, I mean, don’t you agree that some girls are too much like work.”

I had never thought about it before, but now I did, albeit briefly.

“Yes,” I said.

I took another drink of the excellent wine.

“And yet,” he said, “I find myself somehow strangely attracted to Miss Emily, against all my hard-acquired knowledge of the fair sex. Now why is that?”

Well, there wouldn’t be much of a plot if he wasn’t at all attracted, but I couldn’t say that. I swirled my wine, imitating Julian.

“Again you say nothing,” he said. “I like that. Too many people say too much, if you ask me. And I’m no exception. Oh, well.”

He stubbed out his cigarette.

“I suppose I’ll have an affair with her, then. We’ll have our ups and downs. Then eventually she’ll make a better man of me, I’ll see the vacuousness of my playboy ways, and we’ll get married. Next up, the house in Westchester, the station wagon. The two-point-five children. The morning train. Dear lord. Unless, of course -- unless --”

I said nothing. I was just glad it was Julian talking, and not Miss Evans from on high.

“Unless,” he said, “she chooses you in the end.”

I finally spoke up.

“Oh, no,” I said.

Emily suddenly swept into the camera’s frame, and Julian and I both rose -- well, I half-rose and Julian rose to his full height, his hand smoothly touching the back of her chair and then ever so gently touching Emily’s back as she resumed her seat. Julian and I both sat down as well.

“’No’ what, Porter?” asked Emily.

She no longer seemed in a huff, and she held out her wine glass for Julian to fill.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“You were saying ‘no’ to something.”

“Ah,” I said.

“What were you saying no to?”

Once again I had put my big fat foot in it.

“Had they been talking about her in her absence, she wondered?”

There it was again, Miss Evans’s authorial voice from above.

“Were the two handsome cavaliers jousting verbally for her hand?”

“We were talking baseball,” said Julian, filling her glass with the white wine.

“Oh,” she said. “Baseball.”

“Yes,” he said. “I personally think we’re going to have another subway series this fall, but our boy Porter here doesn’t think the Dodgers can take the the pennant again.”

“I haven’t the slightest idea what you’re talking about,” said Emily, and now she seemed slightly miffed, taking a drink of her wine. (Even though she’d said she wouldn’t have wine.)

“Men,” said Miss Evans’s voice. “She would never understand them. Not if she lived a thousand years!”

(Continued here, because our contract demands it.)

(Kindly refer to the right hand side of this page for an up-to-the-moment listing of links to all other extant chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, the first volume of which will soon be offered in a handy pocket-size edition, exclusively at Woolworth’s for a limited time only, free with every purchase of ten dollars or more.)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 35: two cities

“Lifts the lid on the simmering stew of sin and skullduggery that is today’s film industry.” -- J.J. Hunsecker, in The Catholic Standard & Times.

Let us rejoin Buddy Best as he walks with his daughter Liz on a warm spring evening in Hollywood. They have just come within sight of his Depression-era Mission/Tudor house on North Ivar Avenue...

(Click here to go to our previous episode, newcomers may go here to return to the first chapter of Uncle Buddy’s House©, patent pending.)

As they were coming back on foot from the video store Buddy saw the light on up in Deirdre’s window.

“Well, she’s back,” he said.

“Yeah,” said Liz. “Are you going to talk to her?”

“Yeah, I guess I better.”

He knocked on the door and said it was him, and Deirdre called out for him to come in. She was propped up in the bed with a French textbook. She looked at him, then she threw the book onto the floor and started to cry.

Buddy walked over and sat down on the bed. He patted her knee. She kept crying. After a while he stopped patting her knee.

Finally he said, “Well, look, give it a try. If you really don’t like it maybe your mom will let you move back here.”

She sobbed and said, “I know I won’t like it. So why do I have to go in the first place?”

“Well, she’s your mom --”

“Who gives a shit? And that guy is weird.”

She went back to sobbing.

“Did you tell her you didn’t want to?”

“Of course I did,” she said, still crying but not sobbing so much now. “Repeatedly I told her.”

Buddy realized there was a box of Puffs on her bed table, so he reached over and put the box on her lap.

“And what’d she say?”

Deirdre grabbed a handful of Puffs and wiped her face.

“She said I’d get used to it.”

“Uh-huh. And what did, uh, Stephen say?”

“Oh, mostly he just looked solemn and concerned.” She wiped her eyes and blew her nose. She threw the wet Puffs onto the floor. “She asked me why I wanted to hurt her. And then she said I couldn’t stay with you anyway because you were sick, because you were fooling around with his daughter.”

“She doesn’t know that. I mean, not for sure.”

“Now she does.”

“Whaddaya mean?”

“’Cause I said to her so what if you are -- that it was your business and Cordelia’s business.”


She stopped crying altogether.

“Oh my God I dimed you out,” she said.

“Well -- not exactly. I mean you said so what if I was; I mean you did say ‘if’, right?”

“Yeah. I’m pretty sure I got ‘if’ in there.”

They were both quiet for a bit.

“She said that legally you’d never be able to keep me.”

“She’s right, I’m afraid.”

He got up, went over and picked up her French text, came back, sat down, and laid the book next to her.

“Look, give it a shot. If it’s completely unbearable --”

“It will be, I know it will. I could maybe, maybe maybe maybe live with just her, but I cannot live with her and that weirdo. No way. I swear I’ll run away, Uncle Bud. I’ll become a prostitute.”

“All right, chill, let me think.”

“I will --”

“Look, drama princess, be quiet a minute. Look at your French book.” Buddy put the book on her lap. She opened it up. “When are you supposed to move in there?”

“Tomorrow. But I’m not --”

“All right. Just let me think some more. Study.”

She studied. Or at least she tried to, or pretended to.

After a minute or so he said, “All right, I’m gonna make a phone call in my room. Study your verbs or whatever, and I’ll check back in.”


“As soon as pos.”

Actually it took about forty-five minutes, interrupted only once by Liz coming up and asking what the hell was going on.

He went back to Deirdre’s room, knocked, and she said come in. She was in her pajamas now, in bed under the covers reading a paperback of A Tale of Two Cities. He sat down on the side of the bed again and she laid the book down. He picked it up.

“I had to read this in high school too. How d’ya like it?”

“It’s corny. What’s going on?”

He put the book down.

“I talked to your mom, I talked to Stephen too, and you can stay here.”

She shrieked and got up on her knees and hugged him. She said “Oh my God” a lot.

“But dig,” said Buddy. “She wants you to go over there on weekends, starting tomorrow, and, like, stay over Saturday nights --”


“-- stay over Saturday nights, at least.”

“No way. I’ll visit on weekends but I am not staying in that creepo house over night.”

“Oh, you saw it?”

“Yes I saw it, they took me to see it as if I would be impressed or something. And big deal if it’s on the beach, the beach sucks.”

“Okay, well, look, sleeping over one night a week is not gonna kill you.”

“Fuck that, that creep will probably come in my room and fucking jerk off on me.”

“Hey, cool it.”

“He skeeves me.”

“Look, one night a week, just lock your damned door for Christ’s sake.”

“What if he breaks it down with a hatchet?”

“Fuckin’ -- look, she’s just trying to make a point. Give it a couple weeks and she’ll probably forget all about it. I mean, I really doubt she gives that much of a shit whether you sleep over one God-damned --”

“She doesn’t give a shit about me at all. It’s all about fucking her.”

“All right. Tell you what. Work it out with your mother. All right? But you do the fucking negotiating from now on because frankly I’m sick of talking to the both of them.”

“Like I’m not?”

“Yeah, yeah, life sucks, get used to it.”

Buddy got up.

“But wait,” said Deirdre, “dude, what did you say to them? To Mom and the Mariner?”

“What did I say? I bribed them.”


“No. I just asked her to do what was going to make you happy, and, you know --”

“No way that would’ve worked with her. What did you really say?”

“Hey, you know what? I need a drink now.”

“Okay.” She fell back and pulled the covers up. “I feel like I’ve gotten a reprieve from the governor.”

“Cool. You want me to get the light?”

“No, I think I’ll read this queer book for a while.”

Buddy went downstairs to the kitchen, fixed a Wild Turkey on the rocks without a splash, and then went into the living room. Philip was home, and he and Liz were in the middle of Psycho II.

Liz picked up the remote and hit pause.

“Okay,” she said, “I want to hear all about it.”

(Heart-warmingly continued here.)

(Please refer to the right hand column of this page to find what could very well be a current listing of links to all cybernetically-available episodes of Uncle Buddy’s House™, offer void where prohibited by moral umbrage.)