Friday, May 21, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 200: kick it

It is now two hundred installments and nearly three years since we started publishing these complete and unexpurgated memoirs of the inimitable Arnold Schnabel, and yet still it seems somehow that we have only just begun our journey with him; at any rate Arnold appeared to me again in a dream this morning and asked me to thank everyone who has dipped even if only briefly into what he referred to modestly as “this endless river of drivel”.

So without further ado let’s rejoin Arnold -- in his present incarnation as “Porter Walker”, bohemian young poet -- as he walks through the rain up the Bowery with his high-spirited neighbors Pat and Carlotta and Porter’s new “friend” the talking fly...

(Click here to go to our previous episode; go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume memoir. “Sometimes Schnabel seems to me the sole sane voice on a planet of madmen.” -- Harold Bloom, in The Ladies’ Home Journal.)

I followed the girls up the block a bit and they stopped at a battered dark grey Hupmobile sedan, twenty years old if it was a day. It was parked crookedly, partway on the pavement, facing us.

“Porter,” said Pat when I caught up, “go around to the driver’s side and kick the door right under the handle.”

“Kick it?”

“Yeah, the door key doesn’t work. You have to kick it. Hard.”

I went out into the street by the driver’s side. The area around the door handle and the lock was as dented and scarred as the face of the moon. Or, less poetically put it, looked exactly like a car door which had been kicked or banged with bricks and other hard blunt objects a couple of hundred times or so.

I stepped back and gave the door a kick. Nothing happened.

“Christ, Porter, really kick it,” said Pat.

Fortunately I was wearing my heavy work shoes. Making sure no cars or trucks were coming down the street at me, I reared back and gave the door another kick. Nothing happened again. If nothing can be said to happen again.

“Come on, Porter, give it a good one,” said Pat.

“Yeah, put a little oomph into it this time,” said Carlotta.

They were standing there on the sidewalk under their umbrella, lighting up cigarettes.

I kicked the door once more, hard, employing a roundhouse motion such as I recalled Henry Silva using in his big fight with Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate. This time the door popped open.

“It’s open,” I said.


Pat handed the umbrella to Carlotta and came around.

“Okay, get in and scooch over.”

I got in the front seat and slid over, and Pat got in and sat in the driver’s seat.

“Open the door for Carlotta, Porter. Jam the handle down hard, pull in, and then pound the the door hard with the heel of your other hand.”

She repeated these instructions three more times as I tried to follow them, and finally I got the door open and Carlotta got in next to me, closing up the umbrella and shoving it down into the footspace. In the meantime Pat had inserted and turned the ignition key, causing the old car to belch several times and then to emit a deep painful-sounding growling noise, much as one might expect an elephant to make after being shot several times with a high-powered rifle. She switched on the air-powered windshield wipers, they began slowly wheezing their passage up and down across the rain-dappled windshield, and then without further ceremony Pat yanked the car into gear, glanced cursorily over her shoulder, pulled out into a U-turn, and headed up the Bowery.

“Thanks for kicking, Porter,” she said, steering with one hand, holding her cigarette in the other.

“You’re welcome,” I said. “What do you do when there isn’t a man around to kick the door?”

“There’s always a man around.”

She wheeled the car onto a street to the left and I felt the fly buzzing in my hand. I opened it up and he flew up and landed on my shoulder. The girls resumed their chatter, taking only the briefest pauses to draw on their cigarettes. I still couldn’t follow their conversation, and as the old wet buildings slipped by us I found myself perhaps for the first time that day wondering just what I was doing.

I felt myself drawn as if inevitably to this meeting with the young Elektra, here known as Betsy, and I wanted to meet her, but now I wondered if this was wise, because I realized that I had fallen in love with her as she was or would be six years into the future and perhaps in another universe entirely. By pursuing a relationship with her in this world, a world in which I was not Arnold Schnabel but Porter Walker, I would in effect be rivaling myself for her affections, even if she had not met me yet.

On the one hand I would love her to like me as Porter Walker, but on the other hand I longed to escape this world and Porter Walker and to return to my own world, and to the Elektra I knew there. Would it be fair to her to start something up in a universe I wished only to escape from?

But then I thought, what if I were to remain in this world? Things could be worse. I had a book contract -- albeit for a bad book -- and a modest income, a place to live, I even had some friends in this world. But if I did remain I was faced with the foreknowledge that by the year 1963 Elektra (as she would then be known) would enter into a romance with a mad brakeman named Arnold Schnabel.

And then of course there was my poor mother to think of...

“So what do you think, Porter?” said Pat.

“About what?” I asked.

“About what we were talking about.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Just ‘Oh’?”

“He doesn’t have any idea what we were talking about,” said Carlotta. ”Do you, Porter?”

“Well, um, you were, uh -- um --”

“See?” said Carlotta. “What did I tell you.”

“Yeah, men never listen.”

“No, it’s not just that,” said Carlotta.

“What is it then?”

“We were talking Woman. He’s not meant to understand Woman. No more than if we had been speaking, I don’t know, what --”

“Ancient Sumerian?” I suggested.

“Ancient Sumerian, exactly,” she said.

And here I was assuming that I just wasn’t familiar with the people and things they were talking about, but maybe she had a point.

“You don’t speak Ancient Sumerian, do you, Porter?” asked Carlotta.

“Oh, no,” I said.

“Didn’t think so.”

The fly was buzzing near my ear and I could hear him chuckling.

“Goddam flies,” said Pat. “They’re everywhere.” Keeping her left hand on the wheel, she raised her right hand and swiped at the fly. “Shoo, you little bastard.”

The fly zoomed off into the back of the car.

Carlotta picked at the cloth of my trousers.

“You’re all wet, Porter.”

“He wouldn’t have gotten so wet if we hadn’t been stopped by those punks,” said Pat.

“I think that Terry kid likes you, Porter,” said Carlotta. “You having been a bullfighter and all. These kids have never been any farther than Coney Island their whole lives.”

“Except for when they’ve been at reform school,” said Pat.

“Yeah, except for that,” said Carlotta. “Poor saps, they’ll live and die in that crumby neighborhood.”

“Yeah, unless they get drafted. Then they’ll get sent to die in some stupid imperialist war.”

“The detritus of the capitalist system,” said Carlotta.

“And that poor punk thinks he’s gonna be a bullfighter.”

“Young Tyrone Power,” said Carlotta.

“He’ll be dead or in jail by the time he’s twenty-one.”

“If he’s lucky he’ll settle down in some factory job and a life of alcoholism and raise a brood of brats condemned to the same miserable existence.”

“Yeah,” said Pat. “Okay, here’s MacDougal up ahead, and I see a parking spot.”

She parked the car with a jolt but without hitting anything or anyone, she killed the ignition and we all got out. Pat slammed her door shut and quickly joined Carlotta under the umbrella. They set off along the sidewalk and I followed. As did the fly, who buzzed up next to my ear.

“Hey, pal,” he whispered, “ya don’t think these girls are communists, do ya?”

“I don’t know,” I whispered back.

“I mean, not that I give a shit really,” he said. “I mean, capitalism, communism, whatever, it’s all the same to a fly, ya know what I mean?”

“I guess so,” I said. “Now look, keep quiet once we’re in there, okay?”

“Sure, pal. Don’t want me to blow your play with this Betsy chick, right?”

“Well --”

“Don’t worry, pal, she’s all yours. Like I told ya, I got my eyes on that blonde babe, Pat. D’ja see the way she swiped at me?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I like a dame like that. With spirit, ya know what I’m talking about?”

“I guess so.”

“Hey, stick me in your hand again, pal, I’m getting drowned in this shit.”

I cupped my left hand and he flew into it.

The girls had gone into bar with a big neon sign indicating that it was a bar, and with a hanging sign indicating that this was indeed the Kettle of Fish. Jazz music blared out from the open door.

Before going in I raised my left hand up near my face, as if I were wiping a drop of rain away.

“All right,” I said. “We’re going in. Please don’t embarrass me.”

“Who, me?”

“Just keep quiet, okay?”

“You won’t even know I’m there. Come on, let’s get it on, we’re wasting valuable drinking time.”

I opened my hand, he flew through the doorway, and I followed him in.

I went into the bar, it was filled with people and smoke and music, Pat and Carlotta were already chatting with some people at the bar.

I looked around, and then looked around again. No Betsy. I saw a clock above the bar, a Rheingold Beer clock, and the time was 8:43. I was almost three-quarters of an hour late for our date. She had come and gone, and who could blame her.

Then through the billowing clouds of smoke I noticed the band playing at the far end of the room, not on a stage, but tucked into a corner. Sitting on a stool and playing the accordion was Freddy Ayres, and blowing her saxophone was Ursula. Playing a piano, her head reared back, smoking a cigarette, was Ursula’s granddaughter Magda. I didn’t recognize the large Negro man playing a bass fiddle, nor the hunched-over white fellow playing the bongos, but, standing to one side, nodding his head and silently fingering the keys of his trumpet, was Gabe, Gabriel, whatever his name was. Josh’s friend. The angel.

(Continued here, despite the continued snubbing of the Pulitzer Prize committee.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for a possibly current listing of links to all other publicly-available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Coming soon: The Arnold Schnabel Story, a Lifetime Channel original miniseries event, starring Montgomery Clift as Arnold Schnabel and featuring Phil Silvers as the voice of “the fly”.)


Unknown said...

Better and better: I love it when Arnold, and here Porter, ponders philosophical questions. And Magda? I've missed her.
Who's to say that Betsy and Porter being happily and possibly always in love within Gertrude's novel (incorrectly billed as not marvelous, btw)will affect Arnold and Elektra six years hence or ever? That's the beauty of parallel universes--one of many reasons Railroad Train to Heaven always leaves me wistful.

Dan Leo said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed Arnold's philosophizings, Kathleen. I sometimes worry that readers will get impatient in those parts, like, "Hey, bring on the car chase!"

Unknown said...

So glad to see Freddie and Ursula again. And Magda. And I want to hear this cat Gabriel blow.

Congratulations on 200 episodes! It feels like just one heavenly dream.

Dan Leo said...

Thanks, Manny. And I was kinda glad too to see Freddy and Ursula and Magda and of course Gabe again. It's like old home week for Arnold...

Jennifer said...

200!! Woo-hoo!!

Only Arnold could compete with himself... even when some would think it was a win-win situation, Arnold will still find the downside. You've got to love him for it.

And, for some reason, I expect that Gabe and the fly know each other.

Dan Leo said...

Jen, all I know is that ever since this most recent section of Arnold's memoirs started I haven't had it in me to swat a fly. No matter how annoying they may be...