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He had a different look; he’d gotten a shave and a haircut, he was wearing a nice pale blue summer suit with a blue tie and a straw trilby hat, but it was the same old Josh all right, smoking one of his same old Pall Malls, and I must say that although before I had never exactly been overcome with happiness by one of his appearances -- indeed often I had found them the cause of a deep consternation -- I was very glad to see him now.
“Hello, ‘Porter’,” he said, smiling.
So, he even knew my new name. Well, all right then, I would play along.
“Hello -- ” and I almost called him “Josh” but stopped myself, because for all I knew he had another name in this fictional universe. “How ya doin’ -- buddy?” I said.
We shook hands.
“Just great -- buddy. How about you?”
“He just signed a multi-million dollar deal to publish his damn epic poem, that’s how he’s doin’,” said Jack.
“No, not at all,” I said, I think I was blushing. “I mean, I did sort of make a deal for the book, but I’m only getting --”
“Don’t say it, Porter,” said Bill. “Because unless Smythe totally screwed you and only gave you like a double sawbuck advance you’ll have every deadbeat welsher in the Village cadging you for handouts night and day.”
“Yeah, starting with me,” said Gregory.
“Lunch at the Algonquin,” said Jack. “And all I got was half a pastrami sandwich.”
“And a cup of coffee,” said Allen.
“Yeah, big fuckin’ deal,” said Jack.
(I’ll just apologize right here, liebe Mutter, if you have again disregarded my continual injunctions not to look through my notebooks, but from here on I’m going to continue to record spoken language as I heard it and not even bother with asterisks or dashes, especially since as I write this I am still marooned in the universe of Miss Evans’s book, and I assume that if I ever do make it back to my own life that I will not bring this or any future notebooks with me.)
“Well, congratulations, anyway, Porter,” said Josh.
“Thank you,” I said, even though I hadn’t written the book in question in the first place.
“So, what’s everyone drinking here?” said Josh.
“Rheingold beer, sir,” said Bill. “But you must join us.”
“Well, maybe just for a glass,” said Josh. “Anyone want a shot?”
“Yes,” said Jack.
“Sure,” said Gregory.
“I’m in,” said Bill.
“Well, what the heck,” said Allen, “just to celebrate Porter’s good fortune.”
“What’s your moniker, by the way, pardner?” Bill asked Josh, suddenly sounding like an old western character.
“Josh,” said Josh. “Josh -- Christian.”
Well, no one could say he didn’t have a sense of humor.
The other four fellows all introduced themselves, a loud rock-and-roll song came on the juke box, something about some guy being a real wild one, Josh shook everyone’s hands in turn, and while this was going on I suddenly realized that I really had to go to the men’s room, and urgently. I hadn’t gone at the hotel and now everything I had drunk at lunch all at once caught up with me.
“Excuse me,” I mumbled, under the loud music, “I’ll be right back.”
“Wait,” said Josh, and he put his hand on my arm. “Arnold,” he whispered, “don’t run off, I’m here to help.”
“I, um --”
“He’s got to take a piss,” said Gregory.
“Oh,” said Josh. “Sorry.” He dropped to a whisper again. “I forget,” he said, shrugging.
(Of course he forgot. He might assume the form of a man, but somehow he just couldn’t quite grasp all that being a man entailed, like the fact that after a couple of beers and a bottle of wine and a brandy you’re going to have to hit the men’s room sometime in the near future.)
“I’ll be right back,” I assured him again, and I headed toward the back of the bar.
Being an old pro at this sort of thing I was able to find the men’s room without undue difficulty. It was one of those small smelly ones with only one stall and one urinal, and fortunately no one else was in it. Or so it seemed.
I was relieving myself at the urinal, and all was going well except for a buzzing fly circling my head.
I began to hear a voice (“Hey, buddy,” it said, “a little early in the day to have half a load on, isn’t it?”), but I wasn’t too alarmed, as it seemed to be coming from within my head. This was something that happened quite a bit during my stay at Byberry, but the frequency and average duration of these inner visitations had steadily decreased in the months after my release, a diminution so gradual that I was barely aware of it when they ceased altogether a couple of months or so ago. But the main thing I've learned about voices in your head is that you just have to ignore them, just as you would any other annoyance in life. They usually go away if you just concentrate on something else, and in this case I concentrated on voiding my bladder, which was no less satisfying in the world of a novel than it was in real life, which made me wonder at the absence of urination from other novels and stories, not to mention TV shows and movies, in which on the rare occasions that people did go to the bathroom it was only to wash their hands and comb their hair...
“And this is what you think about when you’re all alone?” said the voice. “This is the depth of your profundity?”
“I have never claimed to be profound,” I said aloud. (After all I was alone in the lavatory, and outside the loud rock-and-roll music blared.)
“But you have one life to live, and this is the sort of subject you choose to muse upon? Peeing, and its absence from the narrative arts?”
“Well, when you think about it, all visual arts too, pretty much,” I said, “except for certain novelty cigarette lighters and such, you know, the kind with a little boy taking a --.”
“Listen,” I said, “The scribes of the earth have spent untold millions of words describing less important and certainly less enjoyable activities. Don’t you think it’s odd that tradition would deem this perfectly natural act as unworthy of written description, of pictorial or even sculptural interpretation --”
“What about songs,” said the voice. “Songs, too, I suppose?”
“Okay, songs, too,” I said. “Why not songs?”
“You want songs about pissing.”
“Well, not necessarily about pissing, per se --”
“Okay, how about whole operas all about pissing? Why not a Wagnerian cycle of operas about pissing?”
“Listen, I’m not saying --”
“You’re an idiot.”
“Look, all I’m saying is I just think it’s, I don’t know, unrealistic that no one in novels or movies ever has to go to the bathroom --”
“So I guess you want to see people shitting too?”
“Well, that’s a little different,” I said.
“Look, don’t worry, pal. I’m sure your masterpiece will open the floodgates so to speak. By the 1990s there’ll be obligatory peeing and pooping scenes in every half-assed novel published, not to mention popular Hollywood comedies, so relax, your work is done, you’ve made your great contribution to western culture.”
It was around this point I realized that the voice was coming not from inside my head but from the fly, which was now sitting on top of the urinal I was still doing my business in. It was staring at me. That is the fly was, not the urinal.
“Oh, Christ,” I said.
I’ve never liked anyone looking at me while I urinate, and it didn’t make it any easier that the voyeur in this case was a fly.
“Am I bothering you?” said the fly.
“Yes, in fact you are,” I said.
Boy, I couldn’t wait to get out of there, but the thing is I hadn’t quite finished urinating. Each time I thought I might be done there was a brief pause and then a fresh new stream would burst out of me.
“Jesus Christ, pal, how many beers did you drink?”
“None of your business,” I said.
“All right, don’t get pissy. Ha ha. Get it? Don’t get pissy.”
“I get it,” I said.
“Idiot. Go ahead, finish so you can go home and write a novel about pissing and pooping.”
“You’ve got a lot of nerve.”
“You. Talking about pissing and pooping. At least I don’t eat poop.”
“It’s gonna be like that is it?”
“Well, it’s only the truth isn’t it? You’re a fly. You eat poop.”
“That’s cold, pal.”
“Sorry,” I said, although I wasn’t really.
“You think I like eating poop?”
“I can only assume you do,” I said.
“That’s where you’re wrong, my friend.”
Yes, I was still urinating. Damn Julian for making me drink so much.
“Yes,” continued the fly. “It’s true, I may eat poop, because, yes, I am a fly, and, ergo, I eat poop. But that doesn’t mean I enjoy it.”
“Then don’t do it.”
“I have to do it. I’m a fly.”
“An annoying fly.”
“But,” said the fly, “I wasn’t always a fly.”
(Continued here, no one knows why.)
(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for a what is quite often an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven© “Schnabel’s story is the story of mankind.” -- Harold Bloom)