Friday, April 30, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 197: pals

Let us return to the summer of 1957, and to a tenement apartment near the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery, where our hero Arnold Schnabel -- trapped in the body of “Porter Walker”, a romantic young poet in Gertrude Evans's bildungsroman Ye Cannot Quench (sadly out of print since its third and last impression as a Popular Library paperback in 1962) -- has been lying in his bed conversing with a fly...

(Click here to go to our previous episode; bewildered newcomers are urged to click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 47-volume memoir.)

And with that he abruptly buzzed away from me, over toward the kitchen sink and whatever rotting delicacies he might find in it. And if he found scant pickings there, well then there was always the bathroom.

I closed my eyes and tried not to think about how I had just been conversing with a flying insect, and a rather importunate one at that.

But then who was I to be judgmental?

Perhaps I would behave no better if I had been handed his fate.

I wondered what he had done to offend God, or, alternatively, the Devil. Or both.

Or perhaps he had done nothing, or at least nothing egregiously wrong.

Perhaps he had been reincarnated as a sentient and speaking fly merely by chance, by the whim of an unthinking universe even more powerful than God or the Devil. Or both.

The rain clattered outside the window, through which cool moist air blew gently over my flesh. The shouts and cries and laughter from the street below had now all but completely faded away, leaving only the sounds of the falling rain, the whooshing of the cars and trucks and buses. The neighborhood was no less poor, its inhabitants no less miserable or drunken or insane, but the rain had driven them all indoors, into the bars or their tenements or flophouses or down into the subway. I pulled the sheet over myself, turned on my side away from the window, laid my forearm over my eyes, and, to the sound of the rain and to the faint faraway buzzing of the fly, I finally fell asleep.

“Hey, buddy, wake up,” said the fly, and I felt more than heard his buzzing near my nose. “Come on, shake a leg, pal.”

I opened my eyes. The room had grown much more dim, and outside the window the rain fell in a translucent greyness through which shimmered the glow of a streetlamp.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“Like I own a watch?” said the fly.

“Sorry,” I said.

“But I’m gonna guesstimate you been sleeping a couple hours -- maybe three.”

“Maybe three?”

I tossed off the sheet and swung my legs over the side of the bed.

“You’re not mad at me, are ya?” said the fly.

I rubbed my eyes, ran my hand over my face.

“I know, I know,” said the fly, “I said I’d wake you up after an hour and a half but the problem is -- ya really wanta know what the problem was?” He settled down on the edge of the ashtray on the night table. “I mean if you wanta know.”

“Okay,” I said.

“The problem was,” said the fly, “I found some old bread crumbs on the table over there, quite a few of them actually -- not that I am casting any aspersions on your housekeeping, far be it from me -- anyway, a whole lot of breadcrumbs, toast crumbs actually, and some of them still had some jelly on ‘em, and -- what can I say? I feasted. Stuffed myself. And I guess I fell asleep myself after my feast. So, you know, what am I, am I to be, you know, what, like, castigated for this?”

I didn’t say anything.

“’Cause, hey, just say the word and I fly out that window and ya never see me again," he said. "Even though it is still raining and I could get drowned maybe.”

Right before he had awakened me I had been dreaming that I was back in my own little attic room, listening to the soothing rain and getting ready to get up and go downstairs to a leisurely Sunday breakfast. But that was only a dream, and this, apparently, was reality.

“So you’re not mad at me,” said the fly.

I shook my head, unwillfully started to reach for the open pack of Pall Malls on the table, stopped myself, and instead switched on the small lamp.

“Hey, ya know what you oughta do,” said the fly, “ya know what you ought to do?”

“No,” I said, I was still trying to drag myself fully from sleep, from that now vanished reality of my own bed in my old attic room, my old life.

“What ya oughta do is,” the fly said, “ya oughta just throw some cold water on your face, brush your teeth, and then get goin’, like quick. A dame will wait if she’s innerested, but she ain’t gonna wait all night, and neither are them wolves that are bound to be all over her over at that Kettle of Fish joint.”

“Right,” I said.

I reached down to the bottom of the bed and grabbed my blue jeans, started to pull them on.

“Shame you ain’t got somethin’ nicer to wear,” said the fly.

For all I knew I might have something nicer, but I was already starting to pull my socks on.

“And them work shoes,” said the fly. “Call me old-fashioned, but work shoes are for work. You’re goin’ to take out a broad you should sport a nice pair of black or brown brogues, and with a spit polish, too, like you could see your mug in --”

“Look,” I said, getting my shoes on, “I’m well aware of how one is supposed to dress when meeting a lady, but I’m just going to have to make do with what I have.”

“Sorry! God you are touchy, Porter. I was only sayin’.”


I finished tying my shoelaces, and now I stood up and pulled on my plaid shirt. (I hadn’t been wearing an undershirt.)

“All set to go out and chop some trees down,” said the fly.

I gave him a look, he was buzzing around my head now, but I didn’t dignify his remark with a verbal response.

I went over to the bathroom door, opened it. He had flown over with me, and I turned to him before going in.

“Do you mind?” I said, switching on the overhead light. “I’d like a bit of privacy.”

“Nothin’ I ain’t seen before.”

“But still,” I said, and I went in and closed the door.

“You know I could just fly under the door,” he said from outside.

“Yes,” I said. “But I’m asking you please not to.”

He didn’t reply, but he stayed out there.

The real reason I wanted privacy of course was that I had to urinate again, but fortunately I had much less urine to discharge now than I did the last time.

I flushed the toilet, the pipes crashed and roared as if the very building were having a coronary, and in this slowly decreasing cacophony I washed my hands and face.

For a brief moment I considered shaving. I had at least a couple of day’s growth of beard on my face. But the blade in Porter’s safety razor proved upon inspection to be slightly rusty and very dull-looking, so I let it go. Better to show up a little late and unshaven than to show up even later, shaven but with my face scraped raw and bleeding.

A not very clean plastic comb lay on the sink. I rinsed it off and ran it through my hair, then I brushed my teeth.

“Hey, y’know whatcha oughta do --” said the fly suddenly from the other side of the door, “Hey, Porter, I say whatcha ought to do --”

“What?” I said, my mouth full of toothpaste.

This was like my mother, always asking me questions while I was brushing my teeth.

“Okay, now I’m not sayin’ ya smell bad -- ya don’t -- but whatcha oughta do, just put some cold water on a rag and give yourself a little dab under the arms, just freshen yourself up a bit. Porter? Ya hear me?”

I spat out the toothpaste.

“Yes,” I said.

“Just a dab.”

I didn’t say anything, but after rinsing out my mouth I quietly did as he suggested, partially unbuttoning my shirt, wetting a washrag, reaching in under my shirt and giving myself a quick wipe. I checked inside the small medicine cabinet but found no Ban Roll-On, just a couple of Benzedrine inhalers, an almost-empty bottle of Bayer aspirin, a rolled-up tube of Brylcreem.

When I opened the bathroom door I almost bumped my face into the fly, and he quickly flew backwards a few inches.

“You’re mad at me, aren’t ya?” he said.

“No,” I said, walking over to where I’d left my tie draped over my jacket on the chair by the table.

“You’re mad at me ‘cause I overslept.”

“No,” I said. “It wasn’t your responsibility to wake me up.”

“But I said I would.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, knotting the tie.

“Your tie is nice.”

“Thank you.”

“And that seersucker, too,” he said.


I pulled on the jacket.

“You got your wallet?”

I patted my pants pocket.

“Got it,” I said.


Again I patted my pocket.
"Oh, wait," I said. "I put them in that saucer on that little table by the door."
"Okay, good, we'll get 'em on the way out."

I went over to the sink by the refrigerator.

“Where ya goin’?”

He was driving me crazy. Or crazier.

“I’m getting a drink of water,” I said.

“Good. It is very important to rehydrate after you been drinkin’ alcohol.”

There was a jelly glass sitting in the dishrack. I ran some cold water, gave the glass a precautionary rinse, filled it, drank it.

“Pretty thirsty, huh?”

I filled the glass again, drank.

“Hey, save a little for me in the bottom of the glass, will ya, pal?”

“Look,” I said. I was about to tell him to get his own glass. But then it occurred to me that there wasn’t a glass in the world that small.

“What?” he said.


“Okay. Just leave me a drop, literally.”


I left a literal drop or two in the glass and stood it in the sink. He flew over and perched on its edge.

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll see you later.”

“Wait. You mean I can’t come?”

He turned and looked up at me with two thousand sad eyes.

“Listen,” I said, “this is a date. With a girl.”

“And you don’t want a fly buzzing around, creating the wrong impression.”

“To put it bluntly, yes.”

“But there’s lots of flies at the Kettle of Fish. Believe me. She won’t even notice me. Listen,” he said, “I will be discreet. You won’t even know I’m there. And if any other flies try to bother yez, I’ll chase ‘em away.”

He flew up an inch or two and then settled back onto the brim of the glass.

“Come on,” he said. “I thought we was pals.”

I didn’t know what had given him that impression.

“Come on, Porter. Be a Joe. I’m a fly. I’ll be dead inside a month if I’m lucky. Then who knows what I’ll be next time around. A worm maybe. Or a rat. A lowly turd maybe. Or a rock. What kind of fun can a rock have?”

“All right,” I said.


“Yeah. But you can’t do any talking when I’m trying to talk to this young lady.”

“I told ya, you won’t even know I’m there.”

“All right, then, let’s go.”

“Wait, let me just get a drink of water here.”

I waited while he flew down to the bottom of the glass and drank. This took a long minute or so, but finally he flew up out of it.

“All right,” he said. “Let’s get crackin, Jack.”

We went over to the door, I opened it slightly, put my head out.

“Come on,” he said, “what’s the hold-up?”

“I’m just afraid of running into someone,” I said.

“Like who?”

“Anyone,” I said.

Fortunately the coast was clear. I stepped outside, closed the door, started down the hall.

“Hey, wait,” said the fly.


“It’s raining. We’re gonna need an umbrella. You got one?”

“I have no idea.”

“Well you better go back and look.”

“At this rate it’ll be midnight by the time we get there.”

“You wanta walk in that dive looking like a drowned rat? That’d make a nice impression. Plus what about me? What if I get clobbered by a raindrop?”

“All right,” I said.

“Unless you wanta get soaked.”

“I said all right.”

I hadn’t realized it, but I was standing right outside of Carlotta and Pat’s apartment door, and now it opened. It was Carlotta.

“Porter,” she said, “who the hell are you talking to?”

“No one,” I said.

The fly buzzed noisily around my head. I think I had hurt his feelings.

(Continued here because the fly says we must.)

(Please go to the right hand column of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to myriad other chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Tickets at the door still available for the annual Arnold Schnabel Ball and Roast Beef Dinner at the Osmond VFW post at 5th and Lawrence, Olney, Philadelphia, May 1st, 7 PM to ?. Music provided by “Freddy Ayres and Ursula. Singing and playing songs you can’t get out of your head.” All profits in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 47: Sorrento

Let us rejoin our hero Buddy Best, in the lovely Hotel Vancouver, in the midst of his fever...

(Click here to see our previous chapter; the curious may go here to return to the beginning of Uncle Buddy’s House©. “A savage tale of lust and madness.” -- J.J. Hunsecker, in Argosy)

He went into the lounge, she was there, sitting at the bar with a shiny leopard-print raincoat over the back of her barstool. As he walked over she turned around and saw him.

“Hi,” he said, and he kissed her on the cheek.


He sat down, putting the overnight bag on the floor.

Shiny black heels, sheer black stockings, black cocktail dress with spaghetti straps, that little green-and-red-and-blue tattoo Saturn rising up out of her décolletage, those dark eyes, the fucking bomb. He took off his glasses so he could see her better.

“Been waiting long?”

“No, just a few minutes.”

And to think, first time he’d seen her he’d thought she was, what, some dreary, Diet Coke-addicted, Emily Brontë-obsessed -- but wait, that hadn’t been the first time, the first time had been onstage, in that play, whatever --

“You don’t have a drink,” his voice said.

“I know. Look at this. I don’t know what to order.”

It was a big wine list -- bla bla bla -- he looked from the list to her. She had her hair tied back in some complicated way, a few wisps curling down --

“So,” said Buddy, “You like red wine, right?”

“Yeah,” she said.

The red lipstick again. Buddy took a deep breath and looked back at the list, and then the bartender was there.

“Hello, can I help you?”

“Uh, yeah, thanks.” He made himself concentrate on the list for two seconds. “We’ll take a bottle of this ‘95 Barolo here.”

“Yes, sir.”

Buddy handed the guy the menu before Cordelia could see the price.

“Um, Buddy,” she said, “do we have to have a whole bottle?”

“Well, you know, split two ways.”

“That’s true. But -- can we not eat here?”

“Sure. You got some other place in mind?”

“No, but it’s just I don’t feel like running into -- Joe, or someone else in the show.”

She looked at him with those eyes.

“Right,” he said. “The whole company’s not staying here, are they?”

“No, just some of us. Everybody else is at the Comfort Hotel, or else they’re local and they just go to their own homes.”

“Right.” She had a white plastic purse on the bar top. Too much. “Well,” he said, “I don’t really feel like talking to anybody else either, so how about we just get a glass apiece, and then split. Okay?”

“Okay. So,” she said, “how was your flight?”

“Oh, bearable. I only had one drink, and I managed not to shit a brick.”

(The rain and wind had died down miraculously about an hour before the flight. God wanted them to get together.)

“Why would you shit a brick?”

“Because I’m a coward and I hate to fly.”

“Because of 9/11?”

“No. I mean 9/11 didn’t help, but I’ve never liked to fly. I’m too aware of the fact that there’s only this sheet of metal in between my feet and all that space. I could never understand why they don’t hand out parachutes on airplanes.”

These were lines he’d said dozens times before, but they were probably better than his saying duh duh duh --

“So how do you deal?” she asked.

“I try not to think about it. I read, I watch the movie, I listen to operas on my Discman. Oh, and I drink of course. Alcohol. And I take pills if I can get them.”

“God, you are a coward.”

“A gibbering coward.”

“But you flew all the way up here just to see me. That’s so sweet.”

“Or pathetic.”

He wanted to kiss her. He wanted to lift her up on this bar top and --

“You look good, Buddy.”


“You do. You look thinner. What’s your secret?”

“Philip’s been dragging me to the gym, plus I’ve been swimming every day after work. Instead of just getting loaded. Well, I still get loaded, but I swim first.”

“That’s great. You look handsome.”

“Yeah? You look pretty good too.”


“Yeah, really.”

She looked away for a second, gnawing the corner of her lower lip, then she looked back at Buddy.

“What did my --” her voice started too high, and she dropped down an octave, “what did my dad say?”

“Oh. When I didn’t stay for the pompano?”

“Yeah. Did you tell him you were coming up here?”

“No. I just told him I had a work emergency. And then I offered him a job in my next movie, so he’s happy. I offered Joan a part too.”

Now she gnawed her upper lip for a second, then she said:

“Why? Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know. Make it easier on Deirdre. Get them off my back.”

“It wasn’t so he would -- give you a free hand with me?”

“I’m sure that’s what he thinks.”


“Yeah. He hugged me.”


“Yeah, in the rain. While he was showing me his boat.”

“Oh no.”

“It wasn’t pretty.”

Pause. He wanted her in bed.

“Okay, Buddy, one thing.”

“Right. What?”

“Let’s not talk about him.”

“Good idea. You do look great by the way.”


“Yeah.” He took this opportunity to pretend to look at her dress, but he was mostly looking at what was inside it. “This a new dress?”

“Yes it’s a new dress and I’m afraid to move I’m so fucking fat --”


“I’m serious.”


“I mean, wait -- do you think I look fat?”

He didn’t say anything, or now he couldn’t say anything. She stared at him, her mouth open, then she must have known what he was thinking, and what he wasn’t thinking. She closed her lips, then opened them and said, “Okay, calm down, tiger.”

He took a breath.

“Sorry,” he said.

The bartender was there finally, with the wine and two glasses. Did he go to Italy for it?

“Oh,” said Buddy. “Listen, I wonder if we could we just have two glasses instead of the whole bottle?”

“I’m sorry, sir, this bottle isn’t available by the glass.”

“Oh. Well, in that case go ahead and open it.”

“Buddy,” said Cordelia.

There was the usual awkward moment waiting for the guy to get it open. In the meantime Buddy worked on getting a grip on himself.

“Just pour away,” said Buddy. “I’m sure it’s good.”

The bartender poured away, then went away.

“Buddy,” said Cordelia, “I thought we were just going to get a single glass apiece.”

“Well, we don’t have to finish it.”

They tasted the wine.

“Wow,” she said.

She looked at the bottle, touching the label with her finger.

“Isn’t this the same kind of wine we had at that Luigi place?”

“Yeah, same kind. Different year and vintner.”

“You’re too much.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“So what do you want to do?” she said.

“Just drink the wine, then eat something.”

“Sounds good.”

“You look great,” said Buddy.

“You said that.”

“Oh. Right. Alzheimer’s. Beginning stages.”

“Thanks anyway.”

They drank their wine. Across the room a woman was singing with a jazz three-piece, “Come Back to Sorrento”, Chris Connor style.

“This is only the third time we’ve met, isn’t it,” said Buddy.

“Fourth, dummy. You forgot my dad’s party.”

“Oh, right, how could I?” He looked at her, her face and her eyes. “Oh,” he said, “I’ve got something for you.”

He took her sunglasses out of his shirt pocket and laid them on the bar.

“Oh, thank you,” she said.

She put them into her purse. The slight problem was that he still kept wanting to kiss her. He turned and looked down at his wine.

“Hey,” she said.


He turned, and she put her hand lightly on the back of his head, drawing his face to hers. She opened her lips a bit as if she were about to say something but wasn’t quite ready yet. Her eyes, and this warm smell --

She kissed him, on the mouth, her mouth slightly open, a kiss he felt all the way down through his self. She took her hand away from the back of his head and settled back on her stool, looking at him.

Fucking hell.

“Okay,” he said. “Oh, I’ve got something else for you.”

He brought up the overnight bag, unzipped it and took out the Chanel #5.

“Here ya go. Hope you like it.”

“Oh my God,” she said. “Buddy. I don’t even wear perfume.”

“Well, in case you ever get the urge.”

She opened the box and took out the bottle.

“Y’know, I’ve never tried this.”

“Go ahead, take a hit.”

She opened the bottle and put a tiny bit on her wrist and smelled it.

“I like it.”

She held out her wrist for him to smell.

“Yeah,” he said. “Nice.”

It wasn’t as nice as her smell, but what the hell.

She touched her wrist to her neck, and then she re-stoppered the bottle and put it back in its box.

“Now I feel like a kept woman. But thanks, Buddy.”

“You’re welcome,” he said. “Holy shit.”


“I just drank that whole glass of great wine in like two minutes.”

She lifted her glass and drank it all down and then put the glass down and licked her lips.

“Now I’m up to you,” she said.

“Good. Let’s finish off this bottle and get some chow.”

“Okey dokey.”


Outside in the lobby she suddenly hunched over, grabbed his arm and put her other hand up next to her face.

“Oh shit, weird Joe’s over there.”

Buddy looked and saw Joe Morrow by the elevators, talking to some guy.

“Ah, fuck him.”

“Yeah, but still --”

“Right. But look, can I at least stash this stupid bag?”

“Oh, okay, follow me; we’ll sneak up the stairs; I’m just on the fourth floor."

(Will they or won’t they? Continued here.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other available chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™. Vancouver locations filmed at Paramount Studios. Special thanks to William Powell and Kay Francis for posing for this episode's cover shot.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 196: the fly

Our hero Arnold Schnabel, exiled by the prince of darkness to the living pages of a regrettably long-out-of-print novel called Ye Cannot Quench (by Gertrude Evans, author of other best-sellers of yesteryear such as Her Way Was the Highway; The Fire in the Loins; The Diary of Laura Lestrade; and Secrets of Cincinnati), has finally made it back to his bed in his pad in the slums, longing only to take a much-needed nap, when he is visited by his new “friend”, the fly...

(Click here to review our previous episode; curious students of abnormal psychology may click here to return to that faraway first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 36-volume memoir, soon to be available by subscription only from Oxford University Press in uniform volumes bound in organic hemp faux-leather, copiously illustrated with original drawings by Edvard Munch.)

This week’s very special episode brought to you in part by the hard-working folks at Goldman Sachs (“Trust us with your money. It’s what we do.”) and by Toyota (“Mistakes were made. We’re sorry. Can we please move on?”).

“Oh, Christ,” I said.

“No,” said the fly, “just a humble fly I’m afraid -- although as I started to tell ya before, such was not always the case.”

I didn’t even try to stifle the sigh I now sighed.

“Sorry if I’m boring you,” said the fly.

“Okay, what is it?”

“What is what?”

“You said you wanted to ask me something.”

“Oh, yes -- but, again, if you don’t mind my askin’ --”

“What is it?”

“Okay, then,” he said. “My question for you is what the goddam hell is up with you and the dames? I mean to the casual observer it would seem that the babes are drawn to you much as -- if I may say so myself -- much as the proverbial fly is drawn to shit. What is your secret, my friend?”

“So you’ve been following me,” I said.

“Bingo. You are one astute fella, Porter. If I may call you Porter.”

“Sure,” I said, but not with enthusiasm.

“So answer my question, Porter. What is your secret with the frails. It sure can’t be your William Powellesque gift for playful banter.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I guess it must be your looks then.” He rubbed his chin with a tiny leg. “I gotta admit you do sorta have that sensitive Monty Clift kinda thing goin’ on. Ah, well, dames, who can figure ‘em, huh? So, tell me, what gives with that lady Mrs. Morgenstern down the hall? She was givin’ ya the old once-over and that’s for sure --”

“Look,” I said, “if you don’t mind, I really prefer not to talk about ladies when they’re not present.”

“Yeah? And anyone ever tell you you are one lousy conversationalist?”

“No one has to tell me, I already know it.”

“Well, okay, fair enough.” He flew a little closer to my face. “Tell ya what, you let me do the talking, pal. Just relax.”

“Listen,” I said.


“I don’t think I want to --”

“You said you would listen to my story.”

“I know.”

“Back at the San Remo you said that if we was in your pad you would listen. Okay, we’re in your pad. You gonna go back on your word?”

“I didn’t mean for you to follow me home.”

“Then what did you mean.”

“I meant that at some possible time in the future, then I would maybe listen to your story.”

“You are really fucking rude.”

“Listen --”

“One self-absorbed, selfish, rude motherfucker.”


“Okay what?”

Outside I could hear it beginning to rain again.

“Listen,” I said. “Recently I have had numerous encounters with the son of God.”

“The son of God.”


“Not God per se but the son of God.”

I didn’t want to get into the whole doctrine of the Trinity right then. I moved on.

“Also, I -- I have been pursued by a mad lady novelist.”

“Yeah? What’s her name?”

“Gertrude Evans.”

“Don’t think I ever heard of her.”

“Also, I have traveled through a painting with another fellow and visited 19th century France.”


“I -- I made it back from there, but then I was further pursued by the mad lady novelist.”

“This Gertrude.”

“Yes, Miss Evans. At one point in an attempt to evade her I even tried to climb down a drainpipe from a third floor bathroom window, but I fell, and I would have died or been crippled were it not for Jesus appearing again and breaking my fall, so that I only suffered a sprain. What else. Oh, later on I was struck by lightning and provisionally died. I went to God’s house and got lost looking for the bathroom.”

“You are weird,” said the fly.

“Fortunately Jesus spoke with his father and I was allowed to return to life.”


“Later that day I went back in time again, to the 1930s in the Philippines, where I met an elderly lady of my acquaintance when she was young and beautiful.”

“Yeah? Did ya do her?”

“No, I did not do her.”

At least I didn’t think I did her.

“Just askin’, pal. Don’t take it to heart.”

“A man was killed.”

I had almost forgotten about old Jimmy.

“What man?”

“Her -- this lady’s husband.”

“Oh. And how exactly was he killed?”

The rain was falling harder now, and with it the street outside had grown quieter.

“How was he killed?” repeated the fly. “This lady’s husband.”

“He -- he was rushing at me, attacking me --”

“Attacking you? And why may I ask was he attacking you?”

The fly flew over to the butt-filled ashtray on my beat-up little night table.

“Go on,” he said. “Why’d he attack you?”

“Well, uh, I was, uh, having tea with his wife --”

I pulled myself up a little bit against the headboard, so that I could keep a better eye on the fly.

“Tea,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Tea. And little sandwiches and cookies.”

The fly picked a tiny strand of tobacco from the end of a Pall Mall butt and flew with it over to my belly.

“Tea and sandwiches and cookies,” he said, gnawing on the minuscule piece of tobacco. “Perfectly innocent I suppose.”

“Yes,” I said, probably not very convincingly.

“So what’d ya do when this guy attacked you for absolutely no reason? Stab him with a convenient butter knife perhaps?”

“No! Not at all. He -- he slipped on the tea tray that he had knocked on the floor.”

“Oh, he slipped.”

“Yes, he slipped, and I -- I just stepped aside. We were on this second-floor veranda. He was a big man, and he -- he stumbled and fell through the screening. Down into the mud in the yard, down below. It was raining.”

“Like now.”

“Yes, but much harder. Anyway, he died, instantly.”

“In other words you killed him.”

“it was an accident!”

“All right! All right!” He had finished off the tobacco, and now he rubbed his little front legs together. “I believe ya, Porter. Don’t get all hot under the collar, fella.”


“Okay, then. Go on. I’m all ears.”

“Let’s see, I managed to return to my own time, but later that night I met a dead martyr named St. Thomas Becket.”

“The one who got the top of his head chopped off if I recall correctly.”

“Yes, and the top of his head actually did keep slipping off.”

“Musta been most disconcerting.”

“It was. And then in a men’s room I was approached by a demon named Jack Scratch who tried to get me to sell my soul.”

“Yeah? What’d he offer ya, seven years good luck? Worldly riches? Eternal youth?”

He was resting his chin on the foot of one front leg.

“Well,” I said, “he wound up by offering me immortality. Or immortality until the end of the world, anyway.”

“So’d ya take him up on it?’

“No, I most certainly did not.”

“Big mistake, pal.”

“Well, I’ll live with it.”

“Yeah, till ya die. So what else.”

He flew up in the air again, and once again hovered near my face.

“What else. I met a strange curio shop proprietor named Mr. Arbuthnot who was able to stop time.”


“No, it wasn’t so nice. His cat almost destroyed the universe.”

“Details later.”

“Maybe. Then I wound up with this doll that Mr. Arbuthnot gave my friend, and the doll came to life.”

“Every man’s dream.”

“Not really. But I got rid of her by walking back in time on the boardwalk.”

“That makes sense.”

“And later, I guess because that Jack Scratch guy didn’t get me to sell my soul, I was approached by the Devil himself.”

“Old Lucifer himself, no kidding.”

“Yeah, but he calls himself Lucky.”


“Yes. Anyway, I got rid of him by a trick, but then he showed up again later that night, and he was really mad that time. But I managed to trick him again with this pen that I had gotten from this Mr. Arbuthnot guy.”

“Okay, I’m following you so far.”

“But it turns out he tricked me.”

“Lucky tricked you.”

“Yeah. He exiled me into this absurd novel I was reading, a novel written by this crazy lady novelist, Miss Evans. That’s why I’m here now.”

“You mean you’re living in a novel?”

“Yes. My real name is Arnold Schnabel, and I was a brakeman for the Reading Railroad for many years, till I had a breakdown --

“You had a breakdown?”

“Yes, a mental breakdown.”

“I’m surprised to hear that. Do go on.”

“Well, I had this, uh, breakdown, and, uh, my mother took me to Cape May for the summer to recuperate. This was in 1963.”

“But it’s 1957 now.”

“I know. I was in the future. In the real world. Then the Devil sent me back here into this novel taking place in 1957.”

“You’re saying we’re in a novel?”


“So you’re saying I don’t even exist?”

I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.

“Not necessarily,” I said.

“You mean I don’t necessarily not exist?”

“No, I mean that’s, uh, not necessarily what I was saying.”

“But you are saying I’m just a figment of some goofy writer broad’s imagination.”

“Well --”

“How would you like it if I told you you were just a figment of somebody’s fucking imagination.”

I glanced over at my bed table. There was an opened pack of Pall Malls there. I sort of wanted one, but even more I just wanted to sleep.

“Also I quit smoking yesterday.”

“So smoke. If you’re just a character in a crumby novel, who gives a shit?”

I sighed again. Outside the window it was raining even harder now. The cars and trucks and buses made hissing sounds in the wet street. And I was lying here talking to a fly.

“What?” said the fly. “Spit it out.”

I looked at him, hovering there.

“And now I’m talking to a fly,” I said.

“Yes? And? Your point is?”

“Look,” I said, “all I’m getting at is that I’ve had a very eventful and stressful couple of days -- I haven't even mentioned half the stuff that's happened -- and --”

“Oh,” said the fly. “Here, listen.”

He hovered, closer, rubbing a couple of his arms together.

“What?” I said.

“That is the sound of the world’s tiniest violin --”

I couldn’t help it, I swiped at him, but he flew up just in time.

“Hey, watch it, pal.”

“Look,” I said, “I’m sorry. But I had too much to drink at lunch and I just want to sleep.”

“Well why the fuck didn’t ya say that to begin with?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Asshole. And after I sit here and listen to your whole goddam life story.”

“Look,” I said to the fly, “I said I was sorry.”

“Coulda fuckin’ killed me, swipin’ at me like that.”

“I doubt that,” I said.

“Yeah, me too, really. But look, I don’t hold a grudge. Go to sleep. Take a nap and we’ll talk later. Ya want me to wake you up?”

“That’s okay.”

“Do you want me to wake you up. It’s a yes or no question.”

“No. No thanks.”

“What if you oversleep for your date with that Betsy babe.”

“I’ll manage.”

“Look, I’ll wake you up. Say an hour and a half? That’ll give ya time to take a bath maybe, get a little cleaned up. A shave wouldn’t kill ya, neither.”


Anything to shut him up.

“So an hour and a half.”

“Yes, good. An hour and a half. Thank you.”

“No problem. You got anything else to eat around here except cigarette butts?”

“Somehow I doubt it.”

“What? No bread crumbs even?”

“Possibly some crumbs,” I said.

“Okay, I’ll look around.”

“Help yourself,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said. “I will.”

(Continued here, and for who knows for how much longer. A whole new previously unsuspected milk crate full of Arnold’s neatly handwritten marble copybooks has recently been discovered under some stacks of old National Geographics in the former coal bin in the basement of Arnold’s mother’s house in the Olney section of Philadelphia, PA.)

(Please refer to the right hand column of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Nihil Obstat, Bishop John “Fat Jack” Graham, Papal Censor.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 46: so crazy

No one can say that our hero, that cinematic schlockmeister Buddy Best, didn’t give it the old school try. He agreed to stop by for lunch at the Venice beach house of his nemesis the Ancient Mariner. He tried, goddammit he tried.

Let us rejoin Buddy in the lavatory of the Mariner’s hearty raw-wood house, where Buddy has just pressed Cordelia’s speed-dial number on his cellphone...

(Go here to review our previous episode or, if you must, click here to return to Chapter One of Uncle Buddy’s House©. “Another wild white-knuckle ride from the author of Waking Up Dead, Dancing in the Gutter, and Goad Not the Madman.” -- J.J. Hunsecker, in Man’s Life.)

“Hi," she said. "Are you still there?”

“Yeah. I’m in the bathroom. I can’t take it any more. He’s insane.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m in this coffee shop and I’m watching the rain.”

“Nice. It’s raining here too. Where are you exactly?”

“In a Starbucks.”

“No, I mean, you’re in Vancouver, you’re not on location?”


“Where are you staying?”

“The Hotel Vancouver?”

“Wow, fancy.”

“Yeah. So, did he tell you it’s okay to have intercourse with me?”

“Yeah, pretty much. He hasn’t worked it around to the other part of the deal yet though.”

“Where you give him a big part in your next movie.”

“Oh, at least that.”

“Are you going to?”

“I think I’m just going to do humanity a favor and break his fucking neck.”

“Buddy, that’s my father.”


“It’s okay, I wasn’t serious. I wouldn’t want you to go to jail though.”

“Right. Me neither. So what are you doing?”

“Just sitting here. I have a book but I’m listening to my Discman.”

“What are you listening to?”

“Mazzy Star. Do you know them?”

“I don’t think so,” said Buddy. Then he found himself saying, “Listen, how about if I fly up.”


“Yeah. Now. Next plane.”

“But -- what about your lunch with my dad?”

“Fuck him, I’ll make some excuse.”

“He won’t be very happy about that.”

“Yeah, tough. What do you say? Want me to come up?”

“Well -- maybe --”

“Did you have plans?”

“Well, nothing special.”


“It’s just -- I was supposed to meet some of the gang tonight at this place where they have pool tables --”

“Oh. The A.D.?”

“First-A.D., yeah, he said he’d be there.”

“Okay,” said Buddy. “Well, look, never mind. It was just an impulse. I -- you know, maybe some other -- um --”

“Do you want to come up just so you can have sex with me?”

“Farthest thing from my mind,” said Buddy.

“Very funny,” she said.

“In fact I was going to ask you to stop pawing me every time you see me.”

She didn’t laugh. Neither did he. He thought he could hear her breathing. Then:

“Can I call you back?” she said.

“You mean like soon, or later?”

“Soon. Stay in the bathroom.”


She disconnected, and he stood there for a bit. Then he realized he really did have to pee, so he did that, then washed and dried his hands. There were some magazines on the window shelf. He picked the top one up, an old New Yorker. He sat on the toilet seat and started to read a “Talk of the Town” piece about New York City’s oldest doorman. He hadn’t quite finished when she called back.

“Hey,” he said.


“Did you have another call?”

“No, I just wanted to think.”

“Ah. So?”

“But you would like to have sex with me.”

“Of course. Who wouldn’t?”

“Well, you can come up, but that doesn’t mean I’ll have sex with you. Okay?”

“Well, forget about it then.”

“Buddy --”

“I was just kidding.”



“Well, okay. When are you coming?”

“I don’t know, soon as I can.”

“Well, okay then.”

“So I’ll call you back when I know my flight, okay?”

“Okay,” she said.


”’Bye,” she said.


He sat there, thinking a lot of things, notably What the fuck am I doing? And then after two minutes he called Marlene’s number.

“Hi, Marlene.”

“Hi, Buddy. What’s up?”

“Listen, Marlene, I need a real favor from you. I’ll make it up to you.”


“I want you to get me on the next flight to Vancouver and then call me back on my cell. Put it on the Amex.”


“Yeah. I’d do it, I mean I know you think I don’t know how, but I’m supposed to be having lunch with Joan and her boyfriend and Deirdre now and I don’t have time and I really want to get on the next possible plane. I’m in Venice so it shouldn’t take me too long to --”

“What’s the big emergency?”

“Um, it’s not an emergency, I just want to go to Vancouver.”


“Um -- uh --”

“You want to go see that girl, don’t you?” Pause. “That girl who’s the daughter of Joan’s boyfriend? Buddy, do you know how twisted that is on how many levels?” Pause. “Buddy, are you going insane? There are a couple of billion chicks on this planet, why are you flying up to Vancouver to see this one?” Pause. “Are you there?”

“Yeah, I’m still here. But, Marlene, if you don’t mind my asking, how do you know all about -- all this -- I mean, uh, this girl -- Vancouver --”

“Marjorie Goldsmith told Debbie and Debbie told Heather and Heather told me.”

“Ah. Okay.”

“It’s raining hard, you know. There might not even be any flights. They could all be fucking grounded.”



“All right, Buddy, I’ll see what I can do and I’ll call you back.”

“Thanks, Marlene. I owe you.”

“Fuck you, Buddy.”

Buddy folded up the phone and left the bathroom.


He found his way back to the cuisine, where the Mariner was merrily chopping vegetables.

“Ah, Buddy, everything come out all right?”


“I was afraid you’d fallen in.”

“Heh-heh. Anything I can do?”

“Yes, I think it’s high time we opened that Sancerre, don’t you?”

“Well --”

“Come, come -- I refuse to cook without a glass of wine to hand. It’s in the fridge, and you’ll find a corkscrew in that drawer there.”

The Mariner blathered on while Buddy found the wine and opened it and found some glasses and poured the wine.

“Ah, the pause that refreshes.” The Mariner stopped what he was doing and went through his tasting thing again. “Hmm.”

Buddy tasted his wine too.

“What do you think?” said the Mariner.

“It’s good, Stephen.”

“You think so?”


The Mariner swirled and nosed, and Joan walked into the room. Buddy was glad to see her, more glad to see her than he had been in years.

“How you guys making out?”

She had another cigarette in her hand.

“Splendid,” said the Mariner. “Did you learn your lines?”

“For what, the Kevlar industrial?”


“Stephen, I’ve got like six fucking lines, I’ll study them while they’re setting up the lights.”

The Mariner produced a stage chuckle.

“Yes, I suppose it’s not exactly Lady Macbeth.”

“Do you need any help in here?”

“Not a thing. Buddy and I have matters well under control. Why don’t you set the table, dear? Just cutlery and napkins. I’ll plate the food in here. And get yourself a wineglass. And one for Deirdre.”

“She’s not having any wine.”

“Oh, just a half glass. Mixed with a little Perrier. Why in France young people drink wine at the age of --”

“We’re not in France. She can have Diet Coke or water.”

“Very well. You’re the mother.”

“Okay then.”

She got some stuff from drawers and went into the other room.

“Well,” said the Mariner, “we’re almost ready to go, we just have to wait till the rice is cooked. By the way, another one of my secrets for this dish, I cook the rice in homemade fish stock. You see I get fish heads from my fishermen friends and what I do is --”

Buddy’s cellphone rang and he took it out of his jacket pocket.

“Oh, shit, Stephen, I think this is work-related. Excuse me.”

“Oh, go right ahead --”

Buddy went into the den and closed the door.

“Hi, Marlene,” he said, quietly.

“Hi, Buddy. Okay, I got you on a 3:45 flight to Vancouver. Business class. Gets in there at 6:29, unless there’s a weather delay, but right now it’s still on schedule.”

“Great. Thank you, Marlene.”

“It’s one way ‘cause you didn’t say when you’d be coming back.”

“Right. Thank you.”

“I’m sorry I said fuck you to you, Buddy.”

“I don’t blame you.”

She gave him the information he needed, and he thanked her again and closed up the phone. He stood there for a moment, then he opened the phone again and made a call to Philip, keeping it quiet and as short as possible. Then he got his jacket, put it on, and went back into the kitchen.

“Stephen, I’m sorry, something’s come up with work.”


“Look, thanks for the drinks, but I have to go. It’s an emergency.”

“But -- the pompano --”

“I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you.”

“But -- I made all this, all this --”

“Hey, one thing I wanted to say to you, before I go, I was gonna bring it up over lunch until this emergency came up, but we’re doing a sequel to Triggerwoman II in August, except it’s not called Triggerwoman II any more, I don’t know if anyone told you, it’s called Nikki Palmer now, and anyway, we’re doing the sequel in August, and I know your character got killed off, but there’s probably a good part for you in the sequel. I mean if you want it.”


“Yeah, we’ll talk.”

Joan came into the kitchen.

“What’s going on?”

“Buddy has to go, dear. It’s a work emergency.”


“But guess what?” said the Mariner. “Buddy says there might be a part for me in the sequel to Triggerwoman II, except it’s not called Triggerwoman II any more.”


“Yeah,” said Buddy, “And, Joan, if you want that woman detective part again, well, we’d like to keep the continuity --”


“Yeah. We’ll talk. But look, this mess came up at the recording studio. I have to run. I’m really sorry.”

“Well -- will you be back to get Deirdre?”

“I called Philip and he said he would pick her up.”

“Well, okay --”

“Okay,” said Buddy, “I’ll just run and say goodbye to her. Where is she?”

“She’s -- go through the main room and then back, the first door on the right.”

Buddy knocked on the door.

“Come in.”

It was a girl’s room. Cordelia’s room. Deirdre was on the bed, lying back on a lot of pillows, a paperback of Camus’ The Stranger open on her lap and the fat cat beside her.

“Hey,” said Buddy, “look, I’m not staying for lunch after all. Something came up.”

“What came up?”

“Um -- uh --”

“Just tell me the truth, Uncle Bud: A, it’s probably easier, and B, you know I’ll find out anyway.”

“I’ve decided to run up to Canada and see Cordelia.”

She sat up.

“No way.”


“You’re crazy.”

“Yeah, well.”

“You’re crazy but I’m impressed. Does she know you’re coming?”

“Yeah, I was just talking to her in the bathroom. I mean on my cellphone in the bathroom.”

“You’re a weirdo.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Are they gonna start all acting insane on my ass now?”

“I don’t think so. I promised them both parts in my next movie.”

“You are so crazy.”


She sat back.


“Philip will pick you up. Or Liz maybe.”



He came around and kissed her on the head.

“Sorry for abandoning you.”

“I can deal. Have a good time, Uncle Buddy.”

“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow night.”

“All right. Is lunch almost ready?”

“I think so.”

“Good. ‘Bye.”

She opened up her book again and Buddy went out, closing the door behind him. He went back into the main room. The Mariner and Joan were still in the kitchen, he could hear them murmuring. He supposed he had to go in there and say goodbye and apologize again. And he did that, as quickly as he could.

(Don't worry, continued here.)

(Please refer to the right-hand column of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™. Guests accommodated at the lovely Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, directly across the boulevard from Grauman's Chinese Theatre.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 195: cad

Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel, having twice out-tricked the evil trickster himself, has been transported by that prince of darkness into a novel of 1950s New York City called Ye Cannot Quench, by Gertrude Evans (author of other now-forgotten bestsellers such as Long Walk Off a Short Pier; Sisters of Sadness; and The World, The Flesh, and a Girl Called Madge). Let us rejoin Arnold -- in his present incarnation as “Porter Walker”, romantic young poet -- as he strolls along Bleecker Street on this fine summer’s day, wanting only to take a nice nap after a rather full lunch at the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel...

(Click here to go to our previous episode, or go here to return to the obscure beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 29-volume memoir.)

At last I reached #3 Bleecker Street. The sign on the corner up ahead said “Bowery”, and this was by far the poorest-looking block I had been on yet since leaving the San Remo. Lots of people were walking around, but slowly, as if they had nowhere to go, or as if they had somewhere to go but were in no great hurry to get there. Other people merely stood, slouching, or leaning against walls or lamp posts. Some sat on steps or even in the gutter. The warm air smelled of garbage and sweat.

On the left side of the entranceway to #3 was a grocery, to the right a shoe-repair shop. The shoe-repair shop’s sign said “Morgensterns -- Shoes Re Souled While U Wait”.

I tried the doorknob of #3. It was locked.

I took a hopeful breath, held it, and stuck my hand in my trousers pocket. I hadn't really noticed them before, but, sure enough, I felt a set of keys in there. Allowing myself to breathe, I brought them out.

The keyring, which was a simple circle of wire, held only three keys, and one looked like a mailbox key.

I stuck the largest key into the lock, and, miracle, the door opened.

In the vestibule was a row of mailboxes. Just for a laugh I looked, and sure enough found one with a hand-written paper slip in its slot that read “Porter Walker”.

I inserted the little key and opened the box. The only thing in it was an envelope from the Diners Club. I ripped it open and inside was a terse note informing me that my application for a credit card had been denied. Too bad. As things stood, unless I could find and put the touch on Josh, I would be forced to treat Elektra (or Betsy, I must remember to call her that) to a very modest night out indeed,

I put the letter back into the envelope, folded the envelope and put it in my inside jacket pocket.

The inner door of the vestibule opened without a key, and I went in and went up the stairs.

I couldn’t be absolutely sure, but somehow it seemed that the second floor must be where I lived.

I felt like one of those guys in the movies who are always losing their memory in the war. But did Porter even have any memories, beyond the sketchy background Miss Evans had given him in the opening chapters of her novel? Or would I have to fill out his life myself as I went along? As I looked down the hall, trying to guess which apartment door was mine, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t heard Miss Evans’s auctorial voice from above since back at the restaurant. Did this mean that I had truly escaped from her plot, if not from the world of her novel? Presumably the novel’s heroine, Emily, was off elsewhere having some adventure, presumably with Julian. I wished them well.

At moments like this in the movies the amnesia victim usually encountered an old man or woman who would mutter something mysterious. Sometimes of course the hero would be beset upon by a sinister detective or two. A dead body was never out of the realm of possibility either.

I walked over to a door, put my key into it. It didn’t work.

I crossed the hall, tried another door. No luck with this one either, and in fact I could hear music inside, so unless I had left a radio on, this couldn’t be the right apartment. I was walking toward another door when the door I had just tried opened behind me.

“Did you try to open my door?”

A dark haired young woman wearing only what looked like a man’s dress shirt stood in the doorway. She was smoking a cigarette.

“Sorry,” I said. “I made a mistake.”

“Are you drunk, Porter?”

“Only a little,” I said.

“Who is it?” called another girl’s voice.

“It’s Porter. He’s drunk.”

“Tell him to come in.”

“Come in, Porter,” said the dark-haired girl. She looked a little like Carolyn Jones.

“Uh, no, thanks,” I said.

“That’s not what you said the other night.”

“Is he coming in, Carlotta?” said the hidden voice.

“He says no,” said Carlotta.

The other girl came into the doorway. She was shorter, with blond hair, and she wore only a black leotard. (Or maybe it was a bathing suit, I modestly looked away, so I couldn’t say for certain.)

“That’s not what he told you the other night,” said the blond girl.

“That’s what I just said,” said Carlotta.

The blonde took Carlotta’s cigarette and lit one of her own with it. She looked like an actress too, but I couldn't quite place who.

“How’s the poetry game, Porter?” she asked.

“Not bad,” I said.

“Not bad, huh?”

She gave Carlotta’s cigarette back to her and exhaled a great cloud of smoke into the hallway.

The music came louder from inside their apartment. I think it was Harry Belafonte.

“Oh,” I suddenly remembered, “I’m getting my book published. My epic poem. I just found out today.”

There’s human nature for you. I hadn’t even really written the poem, nor had I even liked what little I had read of it, and here I was already bragging about it to two random girls in a hallway.

“It’s really getting published?” asked Carlotta. “Your poem? The epic one?”

“Yeah, I know it’s hard to believe --”

“And they’re paying you?” asked the smaller girl.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Incredible,” said Carlotta.

“See, it must be good,” said the blonde.

“I never said it wasn’t good, Pat,” said Carlotta.

“You said it read like Walt Whitman on Dexies and cheap beer.”

“I say a lot of dizzy things. Come on in, Porter, we’ll celebrate. We have a bottle of Dubonnet.”

“Some other time,” I said.

“Oh, okay.”

“No, really, it’s just that I had a big lunch, and --”

“Oh, sure.”

“No, really --”

“Pat, give us a minute, will you?” said Carlotta.

“Sure, doll.”

Pat went away, and Carlotta came toward me on her bare feet. She was slim, about five-and-a-half feet tall.

“I just want you to know,” she said, “that you don’t have to feel awkward about the other night.”

“Okay,” I said. It suddenly hit me who her friend looked like: Judy Holliday.

“I know you’re involved with that other girl," said Carlotta.

“Oh," I said.

"What’s her name.”



“I mean Betsy,” I said.

“Betsy? No, I mean that girl who works for the publisher --”

“Oh,” I said. “Gertrude. I mean Emily.”

She took a drag of her cigarette.

“How many women do you have, anyway, Porter?”

“It’s just that I’m just not that good with names,” I said.

“You’re such a rogue.”

“No, really --”

“Such a rogue. Are you seeing her later tonight?”


“No, in fact I meant this Emily chick.”


“And who is Betsy?”

“Oh, she’s just this girl I know.”

“You’re too much. And does Emily know about this Betsy girl?”

“No,” I said.

“Are you sure?”

“Well, I just only met Betsy about twenty minutes ago --”

“Too much. So what are you up to tonight?”

“Well, I -- uh --”

“Emily or Betsy?”

I looked at the floor.

“Betsy,” I said.

“Too much.”

A door down the hall opened. It was Mrs. Morgenstern.

“Well, look who the cat dragged in,” she said. “Rainer Maria Rilke himself.”

“Hi, Mrs. Morgenstern,” said Carlotta.

“Hi, Carlotta. Did Mr. Walker tell you about his book?”

“Oh, yeah, he told me.”

“We got a famous poet living here.”

“Yeah, aren’t we lucky? See ya, Porter.”

She turned around, walked back to her doorway, went in, closed the door.

“You wanta stop in, Mr. Walker?” said Mrs. Morgenstern.

“No, thank you, Mrs. Morgenstern. I need a nap.”

“You been drinking, celebrating, yeah?”

“Yes, a little.”

“So take a nap.”

I went over to a door.

“That’s not your door. How drunk are you?”

Fortunately there was only one other door on that floor. I went to it, put my key in the lock. It worked.

Mrs. Morgenstern was still standing in her doorway, watching me. She was actually a very attractive woman. Was there something I needed to know about her and me?

I waved weakly at her. Then I went inside, and closed the door behind me.

I put my keys in a saucer on a scarred little table near the door.


I took off my jacket, the seersucker that Emily had bought me with her hard-earned pay, and I hung it on the back of one of the chairs at my table, with its portable typewriter and its piles of typing paper filled with poetic nonsense. I took off the dark grey tie Emily had also bought me, and draped it over the jacket. Then I went and sat on my unmade bed, and got undressed down to my boxer shorts, tossing my shirt and trousers to the foot of the bed and leaving my socks on the floor. The room was warm, but not excessively so. There was a fan in a window near the other side of the bed, but I was too lazy to get up and turn it on.

I lay back.


So Porter was perhaps not a perfect gentleman with the ladies.

Perhaps he was even a cad.

Would I now be held responsible for his sins, as well as my own?

Well, I couldn’t worry about it now. I was in my bed at last, my own bed, or Porter’s bed, which made it my own, in this shabby little one room-apartment, in a poor and wretched neighborhood. But even the most modest home is better than no home.

I looked at my wrist for my watch, but apparently Porter didn’t wear one. Nor did he seem to have a clock anywhere in evidence. Well, no matter. I figured it to be no later than five o’clock, probably earlier. Plenty of time for a nap of an hour or even two; and then off to meet Betsy at this Kettle of Fish place at eight.

I didn’t bother drawing the sheet up over me. I closed my eyes. From outside in the street I heard the sounds of cars and trucks and buses, of people shouting, screaming, laughing. I heard the somehow soothing buzzing of a fly. I began at last to fall into my gentle drunken sleep.

“Wait, before ya fall asleep, I just wanta ask ya somethin'.”

I opened my eyes. It was the fly again, hovering over my face.

“I mean if you don’t mind my askin’,” he said.

(Continued here; we have nowhere else to go.)

(Kindly refer to the right hand column of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Coming soon exclusively to Kresge’s 5&10s worldwide: A Pocketful of Schnabel, a handy pocket-sized collection of the wit and wisdom of Arnold Schnabel; edited by Bennett Cerf, with a foreword by Oscar Levant; a Delray Paperback Original; 50¢.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 45: bonding

It’s a grey and stormy afternoon in Venice Beach, California, and our hero Buddy Best must now, for his sins, go out into the wind and the rain to look at the Ancient Mariner’s boat...

(Click here to see our previous episode; literary historians may go here to return to the first chapter of Uncle Buddy’s House©. “Another steamy spicy potboiler from the author of If That’s For Me I’m Not Here, No Time For Scoutmasters, and Two Weeks in a Tedious Town.” -- J.J. Hunsecker, in The Christian Science Monitor.)

They went out through the kitchen and into the living room. Joan was nowhere to be seen.

The Mariner put the great slouch hat on again, and the famous blue raincoat. Buddy accepted the enormous umbrella and followed the Mariner through the house and out the back door, onto the deck and into the rain. Buddy held the umbrella up in his right hand and his wine glass in the other. The Mariner made no effort to stay under the umbrella, and led the way manfully down the stairs. Buddy followed him, and they slogged over the wet grey sand to what had formerly been the dead whale.

“Here it is: my baby.”

The Mariner set to work pulling off the tarpaulin, and with a dull wet flumping he heaved the canvas to the ground.

And there was the boat.

“Well, what do you think?”

He shouted through the clattering rain, but he shouted louder than he had to.

“Nice,” said Buddy, in a normal voice.

“What?” shouted the Mariner, holding a hand to his ear.

“I said nice!” shouted back Buddy.

“Yes! I still have some work to do on it. A touch of caulk. A splash of paint here and there --”


The Mariner turned his head toward Buddy and leered.

“Do you know what kind of boat this is?” he yelled.

“Well,” Buddy yelled back, just like another old salt in a storm on the high seas, “I’d have to say this is a fishing boat!”

“Correct! But do you know what kind of fishing boat?”

Buddy pretended to examine the fucking thing, tilting his head to one side and screwing his mouth to the other.

“Well -- I’m gonna say this is a -- Norman --?” He saw the Mariner’s mouth pop open -- “No, not Norman -- Breton. Yeah, I gotta say this is a Breton fishing boat. Am I right?”

The Mariner looked disappointed but he said, in a normal voice, or normal for him, “You are absolutely right.“ Pause. “Would you like to climb aboard?”

“Well, it’s kind of wet, Stephen.”


“Yeah, I mean, the boat’s getting pretty wet.”

“Yes. Yes, I suppose it is.”

The Mariner stood there gazing at his boat, the rain splashing off of his Yankee general’s hat and hat.

He took a manly drink of his sherry.

“Someday I’m going to take this boat down to Mexico...”

The Mariner continued talking, and with the rain and wind and the fact that he was now facing away from Buddy, it was easy not to listen to him, and Buddy didn’t. He sipped his drink, looking at the side of the boat, and he found himself thinking about the first time he’d kissed Cordelia, her back against this boat, in the cool ocean breeze...

...fucking hell...

...that was, that was...

The Mariner turned toward Buddy.

“Don’t we?”

“Pardon me?”

“All have dreams?” Eyes narrowed, brow dramatically beetled. “Dreams we dream in this dream we call life, dreams we chase whilst dreaming dreams we know not that we dream?


The Mariner looked away again, back to his boat. His shoulders rose and fell, as if with a great sigh. He turned back to Buddy.

“Buddy, I owe you an apology.”

“For what?”

The Mariner looked down.

“You know.”

“You mean about the show?”

The Mariner looked up.

“The show?”

“That day when you wouldn’t leave the trailer --”

The Mariner blinked, once, twice, three times, in a way that looked fake but was probably authentic.

“I meant about Joan,” he said.

“Oh,” said Buddy. “Oh. I’m sorry. I don’t know where my head is. Well, uh -- what can I say? Apology accepted, Stephen. And I hope you two are, uh, you know --”

“We have a bond, you know.”

“A bond?”

“Yes, a bond.”

“You mean, you and Joan?”

“No, I mean, yes, of course Joan and I have a bond, but I didn’t mean Joan, I meant you, you and I, we have a bond.”

“What -- sort of bond?”

“The bond of love. The bond that only two men can share who have loved, who do love, the same lovely and beautiful girl.”

“You mean -- Cordelia?”

The Mariner arched one eyebrow beneath the rain-dripping brim of his hat.

“No, Buddy, I meant Joan.”

“Oh, right. Of course. Joan.”

The Mariner smiled slightly.

“But Cordelia too,” he said.

Buddy had to look away, anywhere but at the Mariner, and he did, nodding like a fool, the rain beating down on the umbrella. There was still some slightly rain-diluted sherry in his glass, and he tossed it all down. Then his peripheral vision warned him that the Mariner was lunging toward him. Buddy’s first impulse was to put up his hands in defense, but the Mariner spread his arms out wide, and Buddy realized that he was going to be hugged by this maniac in the Civil War raincoat streaming with rainwater. Which happened.

Finally the hug was over and the Mariner pulled back.

“And now, what say you to another libation?”

“Okay,” said Buddy. “Sure.”

Buddy watched the Mariner re-shroud the boat, then they went back in. Joan was still missing. And Buddy came to his senses about another drink before lunch. The Mariner relented and offered tea or coffee. Buddy asked for tea and waited in the den. He looked over the Mariner’s books and his video and DVD collection. A lot of the movies were the sort of boring classy stuff you would expect, The Remains of the Day, The Age of Innocence, Portrait of a Lady, Kenneth Branagh Shakespeares, but surprisingly, and almost endearingly, there was a fair amount of big-budget Hollywood crap too, Die Hard III, The Rock, Con Air, The Fast and the Furious. There were even some of Buddy’s movies, all grouped together: Smith & Wesson & Me; Blunt Force Trauma; Browning Higher Power; Requiem for a Hitman; and good old Return To Death Island. Stacked together on a lower shelf were tapes of oldtime flicks like The Little Foxes, Dark Victory, Stella Dallas, Leave Her to Heaven, Meet Me in St. Louis. When the Mariner came back in with a tea service on a tray Buddy was looking at the box for The Gay Divorcée.

“Ah,” said the Mariner, “so you are a fan of the classic musicals, Buddy?”

Well, no, not especially, but Buddy said, “Oh, yeah. Great stuff.”

“I must confess, that whole section there are Cordelia’s favorites.”


“She adores the grand old films.”


“Musicals, melodramas. I’ve told her she should have been born a gay man. Ha ha.”

Buddy put the box back in its place, and the Mariner laid the tray on the coffee table.

“Come, sit, Buddy.”

Buddy came around and sat on the sofa, and the Mariner sat next to him. His sopping socks in their clogs gave off their revised reek of wet dog. He took up the pot, lifted the lid, and took a sniff.

“I hope you find this to your liking. Joan tells me you are quite the tea aficionado.” He replaced the lid. “It’s a mix of Ceylon and Darjeeling, I had the chap blend it for me.”


“How do you take it?”

He had it all there on his gay little tray: a milk pitcher, raw sugar cubes, honey in a little bowl, slices of lemon fanned out on a small plate.

“Oh, milk and honey.”

“Oh.” The Mariner held up the little pitcher. “This is cream. I’ll get some milk.”

He got up, but only halfway.

“No, cream’s okay, Stephen.”

“You’re sure.”


“Splendid.” He sat back down. “First the cream, or first the tea?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Splendid.” He poured some cream into Buddy’s cup. “Is that enough?”


Now he filled Buddy’s cup with tea.

This was a nightmare.

“I’ll take care of the honey,” said Buddy.

“Splendid. And I will take mine straight.”


A fucking nightmare.

Now Buddy was thinking maybe he should just get a little drunk after all. There didn’t seem to be any other way to get through this. Get a little drunk, make it through lunch, then call a fucking cab. Go home, take a nap --

“So, tell me what you think.”

“It’s good, Stephen.”

“Is it?”

The Mariner produced another tasting ritual, then wistfully laid down his cup and saucer.

“As a child Cordelia would have tea parties, by herself, with her Barbie dolls. I would pass by her room and hear her having these endless dialogues. With her Barbies. Over their tea. For hours.”

The Mariner sighed and gazed off into the audience for a moment. Then he turned to Buddy, twisting around on the sofa. He assumed a serious facial expression.

“Concerning Cordelia, Buddy.”

He looked Buddy straight in the eye. Buddy had to look away.

“I -- I was wrong,” said the Mariner. Buddy could feel the man’s warm and slightly sour breath on his face. “As I said before, I felt -- hurt. Deeply hurt. I felt hurt because I felt that you had -- had taken advantage of her -- in order to, in order to, to --”

Fuck you, pal.

“I felt profoundly hurt,” said the Mariner, “because I felt that you had taken advantage of her inexperience and vulnerability. Hurt I felt, I was, as only a father can be hurt -- you as a father yourself understand that I’m sure, supposing that someone were to try to take advantage of Deirdre, say --”

“Well, Deirdre’s not my actual daughter, but I --”

“But you have another daughter. Liz.”


“I’ve only met her once, but she is a lovely girl. How is she?”

“She’s okay.”

“A -- substance abuse problem --”

“Yeah. But she’s okay now.”

“So you know what I mean.”

“I think so.”

“And you have a son. Peter.”


“Philip, yes. How is he?”

“He’s -- he’s --”

“Joan tells me his wife is quite the bitch.”

“Well --”

“But that’s neither here nor there. Getting back to my feelings, my very real feelings of hurt, concerning you, and Cordelia, my -- my feelings of profound hurt, that you had, that you had, taken advantage -- and solely -- solely in order to, in order to --”

“To hurt you?”

“Yes,” he said. “But now I don’t think you did. Did you?”

“Take advantage of her?”

“In order to hurt me.”

“Uh, no, for either one.”

“I didn’t think so. Or rather now I don’t think so. I only want you to answer one question for me, Buddy.”

“Fire away.”

“Do you love her?”


“Do you love Cordelia.”

“I like her, Stephen. I think she’s a great girl.”

“Yes but do you love her?”

“Stephen -- the word love can be defined in about three million ways.”

The Mariner smiled and chuckled. He sipped his tea.

“So true, Buddy, so true.” He put the cup down and assumed his serious demeanor again. “So, the meaning I, uh, mean -- is: do you care for her very, very deeply? Do you want to, to protect her? To have her as part of your life. Do you care for her to the exclusion of -- of other females.”

“Stephen, any guy who tells you he cares for a woman to the exclusion of other females just hasn’t known that woman very long.”

Again the knowing chuckle, accompanied by a man-of-the-worldly nodding head.

“Oh, Buddy, you are a character, sir.” And then again the serious mien and the manly look into the eyes. “But you know what I mean.”

“Do you mean are my intentions honorable?”

Another small chuckle.


“Stephen, my intentions are strictly honorable. And my only intentions are to leave her alone.”

“Leave her alone?”


“But, Buddy, what I have been trying to say in my stumbling halting way is that there is no need for you to leave her alone. Go with her. With my blessing, go.”

Buddy had to turn his face away again.

“Well, Stephen --”

“Buddy.” The Mariner placed his hand on Buddy’s thigh. “Buddy, don’t deny life. I -- I denied life, for so long, for so many years, after Cordelia’s mother died. Don’t you deny life, Buddy Best. Grasp it. Tightly.” And with his hand he tightly grasped Buddy’s thigh.

Buddy looked down at this gnarled sea-stained hand, and then at the Mariner’s face, which looked like it was straining to burst away from his skull.

“Well, Stephen, that’s an admirable philosophy, but what about Cordelia?”

The Mariner’s face settled back onto its bones.

“I don’t follow,” he said.

He seemed genuinely puzzled.

“What about what she wants?” said Buddy.

“But, dear Buddy, of course she wants, of course she wants, she wants --”

“She doesn’t want me.”

“I’m not quite so sure of that. I’m not quite so sure of that at all.”

“She told you that?”

“Well, no --”

“Stephen, I’m fifty-two. She’s -- what -- twenty-five?”

The Mariner finally took his hand off Buddy’s knee, and waved it dismissively.

“Age -- age is nothing. Why, look at Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones!”

“Yeah, well --”

“Look at Jack Nicholson and -- and --”

“Wait, wait, Stephen, you’re getting off the track here. The main point is, she doesn’t want me for a boyfriend.”

“Ah! So you think! But Buddy, the question is, do you want her?”

“For a girlfriend?”

“Whatever --”


“Are you serious?”


“You don’t want her.”


“You’re not looking me square in the eye when you say that.”

Buddy looked him as square in the eye as he could manage.

“I don’t want her.”

“Buddy, I can tell you don’t mean that. I know you want her.”

“How can you possibly know that, Stephen?”

“I am an actor. It is part and parcel of my craft to observe people’s faces, their body language. When I came in with the tea service you were -- caressing that tape of The Gay Divorcée. You knew it was Cordelia’s. You were caressing her energy. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Buddy, to say that you want her. Again I say, ‘Don’t deny life’!”

“And again I say, ‘Stephen, she’s not interested in me’.”

“I think you’re wrong.”

“Well, you’re entitled --”

“Buddy, I know my daughter. She would not sleep just with any man.”

“Okay, Stephen --”

“Do you know how old she was when she lost her virginity?”

“I don’t know, Stephen, and I don’t want to know --”

(Which latter part was not true, but --)

“Twenty-three,” said the Mariner. “Twenty” -- pause -- “three. In this day and age. And that occasion she found highly unsatisfactory. All told she has had only the merest handful of, of” -- circular hand motions -- “sexual experiences, with three or four callow and sullen youths. You see, she is -- choosy. Yes, choosy. Cigar?”


“Would you like a cigar?”

“Uh, no, thanks. Maybe after lunch.”

“They’re good. I couldn’t find any Cubans, but --”

“No, really. I’m fine.”

“Maybe demanding is more the word.”

“Pardon me?”

“Rather than choosy.”


“Yes,” said the Mariner.

“So --”


“Not choosy,” said Buddy. “But demanding about whom she chooses?”

“Precisely. Ha Ha. Because although I myself never had the honor of meeting even one of these pallid youths, she -- and this is much to her credit I think -- she dropped them like piping hot potatoes once she realized their shall we say woeful inadequacy. Their inadequacy both on the mental and the physical planes.”

“She -- she told you all this?”

“I trained her from an early age to tell me everything. I was, you know, a single parent. I had to be both father and mother to her. And friend. And confidant.”

And aunt and uncle?

“I tell you plain, Buddy, I think one of her problems is that she has never had a real man.” Slight pause. “Present company excepted.”

His nose was right there, in easy striking distance. It would be so easy to do, and after one or two more words it might well happen.

“Hi, you guys,” said Deirdre, and the Mariner flinched and jumped slightly in his seat, whirling his head around to face the doorway where Deirdre now stood, holding the fat black cat. “Stephen, are we gonna eat pretty soon, because otherwise I’ll just make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich or something because I’m hungry.”

“Oh. Deirdre. Can’t you wait for a bit, darling?”

“Stephen, it’s like noon already, I’m hungry. I’ll just make a sandwich.”

“No! I’ll start lunch now.”

“You don’t have to just because of me, really.”

“No, no, it’s quite all right, Buddy and I had just gotten engrossed in our conversation, and I forgot the time. Can you wait twenty minutes?”

“Well --”

“I shall cook e’en like unto the wind.”

Deirdre gave Buddy a look, and disappeared, with the cat.

“Delightful child,” said the Mariner. “Shall we repair to the cuisine?”

“Okay,” said Buddy. “But first I’d like to hit the head.”

The Mariner gave Buddy detailed directions to the bathroom, and Buddy nodded, although he remembered pretty well where it was. As soon as he was safe inside it Buddy took out his cellphone and opened it up and speed-dialed Cordelia.

(Continued here, if only because I have bills to pay.)

(Kindly go to the right-hand column of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™. Taped before a live audience.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 194: windbreakers

Most of us only get to live one life; not so for Arnold Schnabel, who has been transported by his arch-nemesis the Prince of Darkness into a now-forgotten novel of 1950s New York City, Gertrude Evans’s Ye Cannot Quench (Knopf, 1959; Avon Books paperback edition, 1960) wherein he inhabits the character of the romantic young poet “Porter Walker”. Imagine Arnold’s (or Porter’s) amazement when, at the bar of the San Remo Café, he meets none other than the younger version of his inamorata Elektra, here known by her homelier given name of “Betsy”…

(Click here to go to our previous episode, or go here to return to that faraway beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning multi-volume memoir.)

The Perry Como song on the jukebox ended, and one of those strange visitations of quiet fell over the bar. All talk and all laughter abruptly halted, and the universe teetered on the very edge of madness. But then a new song came on, a quieter one this time, a gentle song of love, the universe pulled back from the brink, and human voices nervously resumed their chatter.

“Well, I guess I’ll go now,” I said.

“Take a little nap,” said Elektra, well, Betsy I suppose I should call her.

“Yes,” I said, “I really need a nap.”

“Don’t oversleep though. If you stand me up I won’t forgive you.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be there. What’s the place called again?”

“Kettle of Fish. Just a couple of doors up the street on MacDougal.

“I should be able to find it then.”

“I should think so. Do you live around here?”

“Um -- yes --”

“You‘re not sure?”

“Well, I --”

I almost took the folded-up page from the telephone book out of my jacket pocket, so that I could show it to her and ask directions, but fortunately I thought twice.

“Yes,” I said, “I live nearby, on Bleecker Street.”

“Good. Bring some of your writing for me to look at.”

“Oh, no.”

“Oh come on. What sort of stuff do you write, anyway?”

“Poetry. Bad poetry.”

“Has it been published?”

“He most certainly is about to be published.”

I’d know that voice anywhere. It was Lucky, or Nicky, whatever he called himself nowadays, standing there smiling, looking spiffy, holding a cigarette in his shiny black cigarette holder.

“Won’t you introduce me to your charming friend, Porter?”

“Betsy, this is, uh, Lucky --”

“Nicky,” he said.

“Oh, sorry --”

“That’s okay, Porter, you’ve only met me once after all. Nicky Boskins,” he said to Betsy. “I’m this character’s PR man.”

He switched his cigarette from his right hand to his left so that he could take hers.

I half expected him to kiss her hand, he seemed the type, but he only gave her fingers a little shake.

“Porter has a PR man?”

“Yes, ma’am. Did he tell you about his book?”

“No, he didn’t. He said he was a poet, but a bad one.”

“Oh, far from it. He’s probably the most important American poet of his generation.”

“Is he?” she said.

“Oh yes indeed. He’s written an epic poem of New York, entitled The Brawny Embraces, and it makes Whitman’s Leaves of Grass look like a tired patch of suburban crabgrass.”


“Knocks Sandburg’s Chicago to the canvas with a roundhouse haymaker.”

“No kidding?”

“Grabs William Carlos Williams’s Paterson by the neck in a full nelson and --”

“Okay, I get it,” said Betsy. “Either Porter’s one hell of a poet or you’re one hell of a PR man.”

“Heh heh, correct on both counts, my dear.”

“Well, okay, I’m taking off,” I said.

“So soon?” said Nicky.

“Yeah. See ya later.”

“Stick around for a drink.”

“No, I really have to go.”

“Oh but why. The sun has not even begun to approach the yardarm.”

“I had too much to drink already and I’m sleepy.”

“Oh, in that case, how about a pep pill?” He put his cigarette into his mouth, reached into his jacket pocket and took out a shiny metal pill case, flicked open the hinged top with his thumb. “Go ahead, take one, make ya feel like a million bucks.”

“No thanks,” I said. “I’d really rather take a nap I think.”

“What a killjoy.” He offered the case to Betsy. “Benny, Betsy?”

“No thanks,” she said. “They set my teeth on edge.”

“Oh well.” He closed the case and put it back in his pocket. “You wouldn’t see Kerouac and those jokers over there turning them down.”

“Okay, well, I’ll see you later,” I said, reluctantly to Nicky as well as Betsy.

“Yes,” said Nicky. “We really have to talk, and soon.”

“Kettle of Fish,” Betsy said to me. "Eight o'clock."

“Oh, a date?” said Nicky.

“Sort of,” she said.

“Well well well. You know, perhaps I could set up a photo shoot with you two.”

“A what?” she said.

Life magazine let’s say. Rising young poet with his lovely young lady friend. On the quaint old streets and in the bohemian cafés and bistros of Greenwich Village. Digging the sounds of some swinging bop combo.”

“Aren’t we jumping the gun here?” she asked.

“In what sense?”

“In the sense that I only met Porter about five minutes ago.”

“Oh. But I feel a bond between you two. I really do.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’m going”

“We’ll talk very soon, Porter,” said Nicky, and somehow I was shaking his hand, that weirdly strong and warm hand. “In depth,” he said.

I didn’t have the energy to tell him that I had no intention of ever talking to him again, not if I could help it. I freed my hand from his.

“Okay,” I said. “See you later, Betsy.”

“Wait,” she said.

She popped off her seat, put a hand on each of my arms, raised up on her toes and kissed me on the cheek.

I flushed, both outwardly and inwardly.

“See you at eight,” she said.


Her friends at the bar were staring at us. Nicky was staring at us too.

She let go of my arms. I turned and staggered away.

When I got near the table with Josh and the other guys they all yelled and waved at me.

Josh reached over and pulled me by the arm.

“Come on, pal, grab an empty chair and squeeze in.”

“No, Josh, really, I have to go.”

“Sit your narrow ass down, Porter,” said Bill.

“No, really --”

“Yeah, we gotta celebrate your book deal,” said Gregory.

“Some other time,” I said.

“I see a holy energy around your head, Porter,” said Allen.


That was all I needed.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Jack. “Allen says that about half the bums he meets. He’s even said it about me.”

“Oh, okay.”

“I see it around Joshua’s head, too,” said Allen.

“Well, see ya, guys,” I said.

“Wait. One beer,” said Josh. “We’re got a brand new pitcher of Rheingold and an empty glass with your name on it.”

“He bought a shot of Old Forester for you, too,” said Bill, pointing to a brimming shot glass of whiskey on the wet table.

“No thanks,” I said.

“No use wasting it then,” said Gregory, and he picked up the glass and downed it.

“All right, then,” I said.

“Okay, I’m going too,” said Josh, shoving his chair back an inch.

“No, you don’t have to, Josh. You’re having a good time.”

“I am actually. Allen’s been telling me all about Buddhism.”

“Okay, you stay, I’ll see you later.”


We shook hands, and this meant I had to shake hands with the other four guys, but finally I disengaged, and got out of there.

Out on the street I wondered if I had done the right thing, leaving like that. Josh after all was probably my ticket out of here. But I was ready to keel over, so I decided to accept my decision, foolish or not.

I took out the folded-up telephone book page from my pocket, unfolded it, looked for the Morgensterns’ address. 3 Bleecker Street. I didn’t know which way the numbers ran. I went left, the first address I saw was 185, the next one was 183, so presumably I was headed in the right direction.

After a few blocks I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten to borrow some money off of Josh. I stopped, and took out my wallet. The only cash it contained was three wrinkled dollar bills. I checked my trousers pockets and came up with thirty-eight cents and a couple of New York City Transit tokens. Not very much for my date with Betsy. I stood there with my wallet in one hand and the change and tokens in the other, and I seriously considered going back to the San Remo. I could take Josh aside, pretend I had forgot to tell him something, and ask him to discreetly slip me a ten or what the hell, a twenty, he could spare it if anyone could.

“Hey, daddy-o.”

“Pardon me?” I said.

Four young guys in t-shirts and bluejeans stood all around me. They all had the cuffs of their jeans rolled up and they wore motorcycle boots. They had the sleeves of their t-shirts rolled up also. They looked to be high school age but they didn’t look like they spent much time or any time at all doing homework.

“Lend us some money, daddy-o,” said the kid who had spoken before. He looked a little like James Dean.

“I’ve only got three bucks,” I said. I opened the palm that held the change and the tokens. “And thirty-eight cents and two tokens.”

“We’ll take it,” said a blond-haired guy. This one looked like a younger Vic Morrow.

“I’ll call a cop,” I said.

“’Call a cop’,” said another, taller dark-haired guy. He looked like an actor too, I think Timothy Carey is his name. “’Call a cop,’ he says. You birds see a cop around anywheres?”

“I don’t see no cop,” said a smaller blond-haired guy. I wasn’t sure who he looked like either. Richard Jaeckel?

“Look, you guys,” I said. “This is all the money I have.”

The funny thing was, there were other people walking up and down the sidewalk, but they were all ignoring us. And I noticed that the street we were on looked pretty poor and rundown. I suppose this might have been a normal occurrence on this block.

“You’re on our territory, daddy-o,” said the first guy, the James Dean kid.

“Yeah, this is Windbreaker territory,” said the Vic Morrow guy.


“Yeah, we’re the Windbreakers, and we own this block.”

“The Windbreakers?”

“Yeah,” said the Timothy Carey guy. “On accounta we wear matching windbreakers.”

“But you’re not wearing windbreakers,” I said.

“It’s eighty fucking degrees out,” said the little Richard Jaeckel guy. “Of course we’re not gonna wear our windbreakers.”

“Okay,” I said. “But look, fellas, give me a break, I live in this neighborhood too, y’know.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, at 3 Bleecker Street.”

“3 Bleecker Street?” said the James Dean guy.


“That’s Cardigan territory.”

“Pardon me?”

“The Cardigan Mob own that block.”

“Oh. I didn’t know that.”

“You don’t know much, do you?” said the little guy.

“Not really,” I said.

“They’re like our mortal enemies,” said the Timothy Carey one. “Them cardigan-wearing sons-o’-bitches. They friends of yours?”

“No, not at all,” I said.

“That’s good,” he said.

“If we roll this guy it means war with the Cardigans,” said the Vic Morrow guy.

The James Dean kid rubbed his chin. Then he took a pack of Camels out from the rolled up cuff of his t-shirt, popped one into his mouth.

The Richard Jaeckel guy was right there, giving the Jimmy Dean kid a light with Zippo.

The Jimmy Dean kid rolled the Camels back into his sleeve while slowly exhaling smoke into my face.

“Okay, pal. We let you go this one time. Only on accounta we’re the only four left from our gang that ain’t up in the reformatory or dead, and the Cardigans outnumber us three to one. But just be careful when you’re walking on this block in the future.”

“I will,” I said.

“All right. You can go. You know Mrs. Morgenstern by any chance?”

“Yes, I do, she lives right down the hall from me.”

“Do me a favor, tell her her nephew Mickey says hi. I’d tell her myself except if I show my face on that block the Cardigans’d beat the livin’ shit out of me.”

“Okay, I’ll do that,” I said.

“Now get the hell outa here.”

“Okay. See ya. Thanks, guys.”

“Don’t mention it.”

So I kept walking, watching the house numbers grow smaller and the neighborhood get even crappier.

Fortunately I didn’t run into the Cardigans.

(Continued here; Arnold has only just begun to scratch the surface.)

(Please look to the right hand column of this page to find a current listing of links to all other possible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Coming soon, A Child’s Garden of Schnabel, a collection of Arnold’s verse chosen especially for young people, edited and with an introduction by Edmund “Bunny” Wilson, a Fawcett Gold Medal Paperback Original, only 50 cents at better drug stores and news stands everywhere.)