A rainy evening in the summer of 1957.The place:
A tenement at Bleecker and the Bowery.Dramatis personae:
Arnold Schnabel, currently inhabiting the corporeal host of “Porter Walker”, romantic young poet.
Carlotta, a stunning brunette in red.
Pat, a ravishing blonde in black.
A talking fly.
(Click here to go to our preceding chapter; go here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 34-volume memoir. “We are all merely visitors on the planet called Schnabelia.” -- Harold Bloom, in Grit.)
Pat and Carlotta bustled down the hall to the landing, and I followed, not bustling. The fly remained on my shoulder. The girls went down the stairs, chattering about people and things that meant nothing to me, and I followed, looking down at Pat in the lead with her golden hair and black dress and at Carlotta and her dark hair and red dress and umbrella, looking down also I’m afraid at their décolletages.
The fly flew up to my ear and whispered, “Hey, pal, which one you want, the blonde or the brunette?”
This took me so aback that I stopped. The girls, still chattering away in what might as well have been ancient Sumerian, turned at the landing and descended out of sight on their clacking heels.
I swiveled my head and looked at the hovering fly.
“What are you talking about?” I whispered.
“Which one do you want, the blonde or the brunette?”
“Neither,” I whispered.
“So it’s okay I take the blonde?”
“But you’re a fly.”
“Yes. You keep bringing that up. What are you trying to say.”
“You’re a fly. Those girls are human beings.”
“Oh. So you’re saying just ‘cause I’m a lowly fly I am not worthy of mating with them.”
“You should find a girl fly.”
“You find a girl fly, buster, you like girl flies so much.”
“Porter!” This was Carlotta yelling up from the ground floor. “Stop talking to yourself and get down here or we’re leaving you here!”
“Hurry up, man,” said the fly. “They’re gonna ditch us and it’ll be all your fault.”
“What did he say?” This was Pat, downstairs.
“What did you say, Porter?” That was Carlotta.
“I said I’ll be right down,” I called. “I’m, uh, tying my shoelace.”
“Shoelace, that’s good,” said the fly. “Clever.”
“Look,” I whispered, firmly, “you really have to be quiet when other people are around.”
“Okay, sorry. So you take the brunette, right, and I get the blonde. I like ‘em kinda zaftig like that --”
“Look, I’m not taking either one, I’m meeting a girl, remember?”
“Hey, suit yourself, pal, but I’m tellin’ ya, these chicks are hot to trot, man --”
“Porter!” yelled Carlotta. “We’re leaving!”
I started down the stairs again, and the fly settled back onto my shoulder. Why go to the effort of flying when you could get a free ride?
Carlotta and Pat were standing at the open front door, the rain pouring down outside. They were still chattering away about God knows what and fortunately they didn’t seem too upset at my tardiness.
As I approached the foyer, Carlotta, still talking almost simultaneously with Pat, thrust the umbrella through the doorway, opened it up, and she and Pat stepped out under it arm-in-arm into the rain and turned left, still intently in conversation. I hesitated in the doorway.
Pat turned without stopping and called back, “Just around the corner, Porter, come on, get the lead out!”
The fly flew up to my ear again.
“Hey, pal, I’m gonna get drenched. Ask them to bring the car around.”
“But she said they’re just around the corner.”
“Well, all right. Look, open up your hand.”
“It don’t matter.”
I opened up my left hand and the fly flew down into my palm.
“Okay, now just sorta cup me, but gently!”
I did as he asked. With my free hand I flicked up the collar of of my jacket, went out into the rain, pulled the door shut behind me, and followed the girls, who were just turning the corner to the left up ahead.
Hardly anyone was out, just a few dark slumped figures plodding through the rain, all of whom like myself had no umbrellas, old sedans sluiced slowly through the grey streets and a bus passed down the Bowery up ahead, its harsh yellow interior lights illuminating the forlorn faces of its passengers.
When I turned the corner myself I saw the girls had been blocked in their progress by six or seven young fellows wearing variously colored pastel cardigans over white t-shirts, and holding umbrellas. One of them was in a wheelchair.
“Get out of our fucking way,” I heard Carlotta say.
“Yeah, fuck off, punks,” said Pat.
“Hey, don’t be so unfriendly,” said one of the young fellows.
“Yeah, don’t be such bitches,” said the one in the wheelchair.
All this was happening in front of a bar. “BOB'S BOWERY BAR” was what the neon sign in the window said. The front door was open and in its dim smoky depths men slumped over a bar and a jukebox played an old Frank Sinatra song.
“Come on in and have a drink with us,” said another young guy.
“We wouldn’t be caught dead in that dump,” said Carlotta.
“Whatsamatter with Bob’s?” said one of the guys who hadn’t spoken yet.
“It smells like pee. It smells like dying old men,” said Pat. And it was true, the reek of the bar wafted out into the street and merged with the rich slum smells of the neighborhood which the rain had freshly awakened, as if every garbage can in every foul alley had been opened and stirred. “It smells like shit in there,” said Pat, “and everybody in there is shit.”
“Them’s our old men you’re talking about,” said another hetetofore unheard-from fellow. “And our uncles, too, some of ‘em.”
“Get the hell out of our way,” said Carlotta.
“Or what?” said the kid who had first spoken. He wore a pale blue cardigan and he looked a little like the younger John Saxon. “Who’s this, anyway?”
He was referring to me, as I had just come up abreast of where the girls stood under their umbrella on the sidewalk.
“He’s none of your business,” said Carlotta.
“He’s that guy who lives on Mrs. Morgenstern’s floor,” said one of the other guys, a smaller curly-haired fellow who looked like Russ Tamblyn.
“Oh,” said the John Saxon guy. “The poet. What’s your name again, pal?”
“Arnold,” I said.
“Don’t be wise. I know it ain’t fuckin’ Arnold.”
“Porter, I mean,” I said. “Porter Walker.”
“Porter, huh? I hear you’re pretty friendly with Mrs. Morgenstern.”
It seemed best to agree.
“Yes,” I said.
“You don’t look like much to me.”
I almost wanted to say that he didn’t look like much either, or any of his gang, with their cardigans and umbrellas, and one of them in a wheelchair. However, being outnumbered six or seven to one, I merely said, “I’m probably less even than I look.”
This seemed to give the fellow pause. He rubbed his chin.
“Is it true you was a bullfighter.”
“Yes,” I said. Who was I to deny the biographical background I had been given?
“That must take balls to fight a fuckin’ bull.”
“It’s not so hard,” I said, “after the picadors and banderilleros get through with them usually all you’ve got to do is just put the poor animal out of its misery.”
“I don’t understand them words you’re saying.”
“I’ll explain it to you sometime.”
“Why not now?”
“Well, it’s raining, for one thing, and I don’t have an umbrella.”
“Come on in Bob’s with us, have a beer.”
“Sorry, but -- uh --”
“He’s goin’ somewheres with the broads,” said the Russ Tamblyn guy.
“Two broads for one guy, it ain’t fair,” said the one in the wheelchair. I noticed he had a crocheted cushion on the seat of his chair. He looked like the guy who plays Maynard G. Krebs on Dobie Gillis. “How’s about sharing the broads with us, pal?”
“You got a lot of nerve, Stirling Moss,” said Pat.
“Don’t call me no Stirling Moss. It ain’t my fault I’m a paraplegic.”
“Strictly speaking ya might say it was your fault,” said a small boy with horn-rimmed glasses. “Nobody forced you to jump off that rooftop.”
“It was a matter of fuckin’ honor, Four-Eyes! Them guys dared me!”
“So somebody dares you to dive off the Brooklyn Bridge you gonna do that, too?”
“Hey, I might be crazy but I ain’t fuckin’ nuts.”
“All right,” said Carlotta. “You’re brilliant. Now let us pass, roller boy.”
“Why you gotta be so unfriendly?” said the paraplegic fellow.
“How about if I just shove you and your little go-cart right out in front of a bus?” said Pat.
Somewhat awkwardly, the crippled lad reached into his back jeans pocket and brought out a switchblade knife and flicked it open.
“Oh, brother,” said Pat, “you must be kidding me.”
“Hey, look, fellas,” I said, “give us a break. We’re friends with Mrs. Morgenstern.”
Five or six of the boys all said “Fuck you” or some variation thereof, but the John Saxon kid, who seemed to be the leader, rubbed his chin again.
“Shaddap you guys,” he said. “Look, Porter -- hey, what kinda name is that, anyway, Porter?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Awright, Porter, I like you, so we’re gonna let you pass.”
“What about the broads?” said the crippled kid.
“Shut up, Dizzy, and put that shiv away. The broads pass too. This time. But, you, Porter, I want you to get together with me sometime and give me the dope on this bullfighting racket.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Sure,” I said.
“How about later tonight.”
“Well, maybe not tonight,” I said.
“We’ll see,” he said. “Have a coupla beers me and you, maybe pop a benny or two. You like tea?”
“I guess you don’t mean the kind of tea you drink.”
“Ha ha, funny man. Awright. We’ll talk. Meanwhile youse can go. But be careful you don’t run into that Windbreaker mob. They might not be so fuckin’ nice.”
“We’ll watch out for them,” I said.
“You run into ‘em, you tell ‘em, they fuck with you, they fuck with the Cardigans.”
“So you’re the Cardigans,” I said.
“Yeah, and nobody fucks with us.”
“Well, thanks, guys, I appreciate it.”
I was getting soaked standing there.
“Awright. My name’s Terry by the way.”
“Cool, now get the hell outa here and keep your noses clean.”
The boys made an opening for us on the sidewalk and we passed through.
Carlotta and Pat immediately resumed their conversation, hurrying through the rain under their umbrella, their high heels clacking on the wet cracked pavement with me a few paces behind. I felt a buzzing in my closed left hand, and I lifted it up as if to scratch my ear.
“Very well-played, my friend,” whispered the fly. “Very well-played indeed. But you didn’t have to worry, pal. I had your back all the way.”
(Continued here, and, at this rate, well into the next century.)
(Please refer to the right hand column of this page for a generally up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Coming soon: My Friend Arnold: a Personal Memoir of “America’s Poet”, Arnold Schnabel, by Gertrude Evans; foreword by Dr. Albert Schweitzer; a Fawcett Gold Medal Paperback Original, 50ç.)