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.)


DR said...

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

ha ha ha

Dan Leo said...

"Very funny, Mr. Schnoid."

Unknown said...

"He turned and looked up at me with two thousand sad eyes."
Only Arnold would notice that.

Unknown said...

When he laid his forearm over his eyes to sleep, I got such a clear picture of Porter that I'm wondering: Do you think he looks exactly like Arnold? The man's still not smoking, still drinking-- same girlfriend even. Subtle differences in cadence (love the fly's cadence) but those could be environmental.

(Yes, I am over-thinking it again. It's been a very long day, sorry.)

Dan Leo said...

Manny: word.

Kathleen: one of the odd aspects of this new adventure of Arnold's is that he inhabits a completely different body, because everyone in Gertrude's world looks like a movie actor. Porter supposedly looks like a young Montgomery Clift, so things could definitely be worse for Arnold. At least he doesn't look like Arnold Stang (like the waiter Maxie back at the Algonquin). At least he's not a fly.

Jennifer said...

I think I'm going to start listening more closely to everything from now on. Who knows what the bushes, the ants, the dirt might have been saying this entire time.

Dan Leo said...

Amen, Jen.

(Which sounds like a very short poem.)