Saturday, July 31, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 210: the joke

After twice discomfiting the Prince of Darkness (AKA “Mr. Lucky) in the most humiliating manner, our hero Arnold Schnabel has been exiled by that vindictive fallen angel to the pages of an all-but-forgotten novel called Ye Cannot Quench, a lusty bildungsroman of 1950s New York City written by another of Arnold’s nemeses, Gertrude Evans, author of many other volumes such as Kingdom of Passion; Suburb of Lost Souls; Set Sail for Tomorrow; and No Tears for Tessie.

Let’s rejoin Arnold on a rainy Tuesday night in the summer of 1957, deep in the heart of Greenwich Village at that Bohemian hotspot the Kettle of Fish, where in his current persona of “Porter Walker, handsome and romantic young poet” he has been declaiming from his epic poem The Brawny Embraces...

(Please go here to read our previous episode; the bewildered may wish to click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning multi-volume memoir. ”Arnold Schnabel -- the very name dilates the pupils of the eyes of littérateurs worldwide.” -- Harold Bloom, in Mechanics Illustrated.)

Suddenly the audience burst as one into a great churning roar, and for a moment I thought they might all be shouting at me in justifiable outrage at the imbecility of my poem, but then out of this multifarious deafening babble I made out the by now all too familiar phrase “Go, daddy, go!” and its dozens of permutations.

Meanwhile in answer to this tidal wave of huzzahs the band in back of me played louder and more frenetically still, all five musicians seemingly playing unrelated solos at once.

I became aware that I was now absolutely oozing with sweat, even more so than earlier when I had been stuck alone with Emily; my clothes felt as sodden and glutinous as if I had just been chased by a pack of bloodhounds through some fetid southern swamp. Unconsciously I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand, and the salt entered into them, stinging and almost blinding me.

“More! More! More!” chanted the crowd.

I lifted the enormous poem to within inches of my face, just to one side of the microphone. I wiped my eyes again, and that just made it worse. I blinked repeatedly, but the print swarmed unintelligibly over the page like an army of drunken ants.

“Go! Go, man, go!” cried the ghostly crowd in front of me. “Daddy!” “Go!” “Go, go, daddy-o!”

Piercing through the hubbub I distinguished Pat’s and Carlotta’s voices calling in unison: “Por-ter! Woo hoo!”

“Maw,” said Maxie, who was standing only a couple feet away from me; through my fogged eyes I could make out that he was not even bothering to hold his bleeding ear any more. “Maw.”

“Maw?” I said.

“Yeah, maw,” he said.

I put one hand over the nubbly head of the microphone and leaned toward him.

“You mean maw like the mouth of an tiger, or a whale or something?”


“Or, like I’m staring into the great gaping jaws of the universe, maybe, waiting to be swallowed up and devoured? That kind of maw?”

“Nah, I just meant read some maw of your poem, Mr. Walker.”

“Oh,” I said. “’More’.”

“Yeah, maw,” he said. “Wudja think I said?”

“Oh, nothing,” I said.

The crowd was still going crazy. I took my hand off the microphone and tried looking at that great flopping slab of a poem again, but I might as well have been trying to read an epic poem in Swahili.

I considered trying to reason with the mob, to explain to them that due to causes entirely beyond my control and not my fault I was literally unable to read any more of this nonsense, but then suddenly I had another one of my occasional brainwaves. It was true that in this world I might be “Porter Walker, bohemian poet”, but inside I was still Arnold Schnabel and a bad poet in my own right. Perhaps I could recite one of the many thousands of poems I had actually written, all of which, although they were just as asinine as Porter’s epic poem, had at least the decency of being short, not to mention rhyming.

I cast around in the mossy Carlsbad Caverns of my skull and came up with one of my more recent poems, written not long after my mental breakdown. I lowered Porter’s massive poem, and, stepping close to the microphone and feeling like my own little island between the frenzied audience and the “smoking” combo, I spoke, very slowly and measuredly as I pulled each word and phrase from my memory, but nonetheless with the confidence that my own rubbish could hardly be much worse than Porter’s:

I who was sane if perhaps slightly strange
Have now been reborn as a maniac,
And with this new life in me comes a change
In the world around and in the eyes
Of the people in that world. I look back
On a life in which I had my own place;
But then came a night when to my surprise
That life ended and I became unreal.
Who is this new actor behind this face?
If someone would only give me a script
I’d sit right down and start to memorize.
It’s sad, but now I’m beginning to feel
It’s me who’s going to have to write it;
Otherwise I’ll just have to improvise.

That was the end of the poem.

The combo continued to play behind me, but in a much softer way, and whereas shortly before they seemed to be playing five different songs simultaneously, they were now playing, if not the same song, at least in the same key and tempo.

As I was reciting my little sonnet I hadn’t been particularly aware of anything visual, but now my eyes had cleared somewhat, and I looked out at my audience through those slowly drifting cumulus clouds of tobacco smoke.

Everyone was crying.

Some were openly sobbing; a few, both men and women, had even fallen to their knees; some sniffled; others gasped, as if bravely, trying to choke back the outward display of raw emotion; people dabbed at their eyes and noses with handkerchiefs and shirt-sleeves and Kleenex. Emily stood there with tears coursing down her face, her shoulders shaking. Julian took his display handkerchief from the breast pocket of his blazer, shook it out and handed it to her. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose. I noticed that Nicky, Edward R. Murrow, John Cameron Swayze and Ralph Edwards were all simultaneously offering handkerchiefs to Pat and Carlotta, who each took two.

Maxie still stood practically right in front of me. He had removed his sunglasses, and he mopped his cheeks with his cap.

“Gee, Mr. Walker,” he said, “that was really, like, moving.”

Then I heard that same old buzzing, and I felt the tiny sentient creature land right inside the intertragic notch of my right ear.

“Great,” whispered the fly. “Swell, pal. And now that you’ve depressed the hell out of everybody, what are you gonna do for your next number?”

(Not a dry eye in the house! But don’t worry, continued here.)

(Please turn to the right hand side of this page to find a purportedly current listing of links to all other publicly accessible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Yet another trove of Arnold’s notebooks has been discovered underneath a pile of old issues of the Catholic Standard & Times in the disused coal chute of his mother’s house at B and Olney in the Olney section of Philadelphia, so God only knows when this will all end. This project made possible in part by the good people of Xe Services LLC : "We may have changed our name, heh heh, but we’re still the same old Blackwater -- so if you’ve got the money, we’ve got the guns!”)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 60: curtain call

We now present the thrilling conclusion of our story...

(Please click here to read our previous chapter, or go here to return to that faraway beginning of Uncle Buddy’s House™. “I laughed, I cried, I groaned, and finally I collapsed into a hysterical fit of giggles.” -- J.J. Hunsecker in Vogue.)

She looked at him for about ten seconds.

Then she came over and sat on his lap, putting her arms around his neck.

“Ow,” said Buddy.


“I forgot that I got shot in my leg. Here, just shift more to my right leg.”

“Is that okay?”

“Yeah, that’s great.”

“I can’t believe you stopped calling me just because of that stupid guy.”

“Well, you could have called me.”

“I know. I meant to.”

“Yeah, well --”

“Yeah,” she said.

She kissed him. It was a good kiss, it was the first time they’d kissed since almost eight months before, outside the Hotel Vancouver, on the sidewalk in a windy light rain, right before he’d gotten into his cab to the airport, and that had been a good kiss too.

She pulled back and looked at him.

“I’ll give you this,” she said. “You are a good kisser.”

“Let’s do it again,” said Buddy. “I like how you taste like good bourbon.”

And they did it again.

Then, a couple of minutes later, “Okay, I really have to get dressed now,” she said, but she made no move to get up off his lap.



“I don’t know.”

He put his nose into her neck and his hand on her breast. She made a groan.

“You still smell good,” he said. “I love the way you smell.”

“I smell like sweat,” she said. “I sweat like a pig onstage in that costume.” She put her hand on his hand on her breast. “Stop it, Buddy.”


“I have to get dressed.”


“Take your hand off my boob.”

“All right.”

He took his hand off her boob and put it on her hip, and they kissed again. She grabbed the hair at the back of his head. He slid his hand down her thigh and under her slip.

“Oh, no,” she whispered. “Don’t start that again.”

But he did, and she let him.

“Do you mind?” he said.

“No,” she said.

She put her face in his shoulder. He could feel her breath on his throat. He stroked her hair with his free hand. She lifted her face and they kissed some more. After a minute she whispered in his ear:

“This other guy? The doctor?”

“Yeah,” said Buddy.

“I thought it was going to --”


Her neck, her chest, her little tattoo Saturn --

“-- like be in the movies, you know, walk around, with a normal person, and hold hands, and then go home and have normal sex like a normal person --”


“That’s not asking a whole lot, is it?” Looking at him.


“But we ended up not really even fucking at all.”

“Really?” Looking at her.

“Yeah, because he only wanted to -- well, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“All right.”

“All right what?”

“Just -- all right.”

He pulled his hand out from under her slip.

“Hey, why’d you stop?” she said.

“I don’t know. Do you want me to do it some more?”



She looked at him and gnawed her upper lip.

“I love the way you gnaw your lip,” said Buddy.

Of course she immediately stopped doing it.

“Y’know, I absolutely never do that when I’m onstage?”

“You should. It’s a nice bit of business.”

“It makes me look like an idiot.”

She looked down and away. Buddy’s hand was on her hip. He looked at her face, watching her breathe. She raised her eyes to his. How long was it, what, eight months on, and here they were again, and with this feeling as if he’d just seen her yesterday.

“Okay,” she said.

She pulled his hand off her hip and she got off him.

“I know, I’ll turn around,” said Buddy.

“No. Wait.”

She picked up the white plastic purse and opened it up. She rummaged in it, and then she turned it over and with five good shakes disgorged its contents onto the table. She stirred through the pile of stuff with her finger, and came up with a shiny black condom packet. She handed it to Buddy.

“Here, I’m sure you know how to do it.”

She stepped out of her pink slippers, then she reached under her slip, pulled down a pair of white panties, got them off, and tossed them onto the table.

“Okay,” she said.

“Okay,” said Buddy.

Then came a knocking on the door.

“Oh, now what?” said Cordelia, quietly.


It was Thelma’s voice.

“What, Ethel? We’re talking in here! Jesus Christ!”

“Don’t you get snippy with me, missy. You have another visitor. Are you decent?”

“Of course I’m decent. Who is it?”

The door opened, Thelma Ritter opening it and with her free hand gesturing offstage and saying, “Enter the Father.”

And entered the Ancient Mariner, replete with leather-armpatched overcoat in tweed, a long nubbly grey scarf, and a Russian sable pillbox hat, Thelma slamming the door shut behind him, and --

“Darling, I -- oh! Buddy! Quelle surprise!”

Buddy in one swift movement pocketed the condom and crossed his legs.

“Oh, hiya, Stephen.”

Ché bella fortuna! I had no idea you were in town.” Swooping over and taking and pumping Buddy’s hand with both of his own hands while Cordelia stood back with her fingers making a church over her mouth. “When did you arrive?” asked the Mariner.

“Uh, just this morning --”

“You must lunch with us, old man.” Holding tightly onto Buddy’s hand.

“Well --”

“Papa,” said Cordelia, now clasping her hands together over her bosom, “I left a message on your cellphone --”

“Oh! Did you?”

The Mariner tossed Buddy’s hand aside, whipped a cellphone from the pocket of his overcoat and began pressing buttons.

“Well. So you did.” He turned to Buddy. “I had disengaged the ring because I was at another matinée. I saw this simply marvelous production of Titus Andronicus. Marvelous. A very interesting use of -- space. And shadow.” (Fuck you, thought Buddy.) “So, did you see Cordelia’s performance and what did you think.”

“I did see her and I thought she was gr--”

“Of course she was, of course she was, of course -- oh, but Buddy, I have a bone to pick with you.”

“Oh. I mean, ‘oh?’”

“Yes. You said you would let me know when our latest film would be opening.”

“Oh. Well, we still don’t have an exact release date. So I haven’t --”

“Why so terribly long a wait? I am on tenterhooks!”

“Well, as I told you the last few times you called me, Stephen, the studio decided to wait till after Christmas, because --”

“The studio!”

“Yeah --”

“But you will call me.”

“Sure, like I said the last time, it looks like early Febru--”

“Yes, yes, early Feb--, but see here, you must join us for lunch.”

“Uh --”

“There’s no use demurring, I quite insist.”

“But, Papa --” said Cordelia.

“What. Yes.”

“Um, Buddy and I were, um --”

“Yes, go on, child.”

“-- thinking of just having like a quiet like lunch together.”


“Just the two of us.”




“Like, alone.”

“I see.”

“Which is why I called you.”


Fuck you.

“I mean,” said Cordelia --


“-- we --”


“-- you and I, we can still get together later --”

“I should hope so. It is --” he paused, milking it -- ”Christmas Eve you know. And I did fly all the way out here solely to see you.” The Mariner cast his gaze, and his benignity, toward Buddy. Then, full of brisk plucky good humor, “I spent one day with Joan and Deirdre on the familial farm in Nebraska, and then I simply had to flee. I have this strange aversion to the Midwest. Oh, what is this?”

He was staring at Cordelia’s make-up table and for a horrible moment Buddy thought the Mariner meant Cordelia’s crumpled white panties in full view there, but seemingly oblivious to or not giving a shit about them the Mariner went over and picked up the bottle of Elijah Craig 18-year-old.

“So, have you two been having a tipple? And may I?” he asked Buddy.

“It’s Cordelia’s.”

“I’m sure she won’t mind.”

Before she had a chance to say help yourself he did so, pouring four or so fingers into a plastic cup and not bothering with the Evian. Time stood horribly still while he swirled, sniffed, sipped, chewed cud, and swallowed. And then, staring at Buddy, or at least staring in the direction of Buddy’s face, he exhaled, his mouth as open wide as if a dentist had just said to him: “Wider.”

“Ah,” said the Mariner, when that was all over with. And then quickly, “But I’m not so sure as I don’t prefer a good sturdy Armaganac. What do you think, Buddy?”

“Well, it’s, uh --”

The Mariner tossed down the remainder, without the ceremony this time, and tossed the cup toward the wastebasket, but onto the floor.

“Ah, but New York at Christmas! And with my only beloved daughter! So,” he said, smiling bravely, and full of the nobility of self-sacrifice, “where are you two lunching?”

He was still wearing his siege of Stalingrad hat, and a trickle of sweat made its way from under it and down the side of his face. Behind him Cordelia inched closer to the make-up table.

“Well --” said Buddy, “we haven’t really --”

“What sort of cuisine were you interested in?” he asked, as if he were interested, his eyes blinking every half-second.

“I hadn’t really --”

Cordelia reached over, grabbed the panties, and flicked them under the table.

“French?” said the Mariner, and, perhaps somehow hearing or sensing the gentle fall of underwear he turned, only to see Cordelia pretending to touch one of the bouquet of roses, or more precisely actually touching one of the roses. The Mariner quickly grabbed up the bouquet and shoved them to his nose.

“Uh, no,” said Buddy, “nothing so -- French --”

The roses dropped back down to the table and the Mariner cast a weather eye Buddy’s way.

“Italian perhaps?”

He sat himself down in Cordelia’s chair.

“Uh, sure,” said Buddy, “Italian’s good.”

Cordelia started to sit in the one other chair in the room, on the opposite wall from Buddy, but realized it was occupied with clothes, books, a Discman and headset, CDs in and out of their cases --

Northern Italian?” ventured the Mariner, one eyebrow cocked, as if this were an exam question.

“Uh, yeah, northern, southern --”

Cordelia remained standing, barefoot, her arms folded across her chest, biting her upper lip, looking intently into the farthest possible corner of the tiny room.

“May I recommend an excellent place?” asked the Mariner.

“Yeah, sure,” said Buddy.

“It’s --” He closed his eyes, as if summoning a voice from beyond. Buddy glanced at Cordelia, she looked at him, gave a sort of shrug then returned to staring into the corner. “It’s in the Village,” said the Mariner, suddenly opening his eyes.

“Ah,” said Buddy.

“It’s -- on -- MacDougal?”

“That’s in the Village.”

“Yes. I can’t -- quite -- recall -- the name. The most lovely authentic Tuscan cuisine. I go there every time I visit New York.”

Buddy noticed that the Mariner was wearing great high rubber boots, shiny brown, a yellow wooly trim at the top, with his wide-waled grey corduroy trousers tucked in.

“Papa,” said Cordelia, “you haven’t even been here in years and years. Maybe it’s closed --”

“Oh, but this place is an institution! It will never close! And I’m sure they’ll remember me. They make the most wonderful baccalà with artichokes and squid ink. I should call to make sure they have it on the menu today.”

“But you don’t know what the place is called, Papa.”

“Yes. Quite. But I do remember precisely where it is.”

“Well, if you give us the address --” said Buddy.

“I would know it precisely if I were in the neighborhood.” He closed his eyes again. “I can visualize it quite clearly in my mind. checked tablecloths...” His eyes opened, questioningly, blinking. “Perhaps it was Thompson Street?”

“Well, look,” said Buddy, “I’m happy just whipping over to the Carnegie Deli --”

“No!” said the Mariner. “The Carnegie has gone so downhill! I had lunch there yesterday and they gave me such attitude simply because I asked them to trim the fat from my pastrami! No! You must try this trattoria! It is the finest Northern Italian restaurant in New York by far!”

“I’m sure it is, Stephen, but since you can’t remember --”

The Mariner threw up his hand like a traffic cop.

“There is only one solution.”


“I will take you there in a taxicab. Once I am in the neighborhood I am sure I can find it.”

“No, I mean, really, Stephen --”

“Yes yes yes, I insist! And on the way perhaps you and I can have a word about this new project I hear you have in the works.”


“A little item I happened upon in the august pages of Variety, you naughty man.”

“Oh -- I’m -- well, we’re still working on the script, Stephen, it’s --”

“An adaptation of Crime and Punishment!”

“Yeah, pretty loose, actually --”

“One of my favorite novels,” said the Mariner. “An absolute favorite.” And then, as if very much by the way, “And Dusty Hoffman is attached?”

“Oh, yeah, I mean, no, not exactly attached--”


“Yeah, but --”


“Uh, somehow he got ahold of our first draft and he expressed an interest--”

“In the part of Fropfiry Fropfirovich.”


“Fropfiry Fropovich.”

“Um --”

“The detective. In charge of the case.”

“Ah --”

“Fropfiry Fropfirororovich.”

“You mean -- Porfiry Petrovich?”

“Yes, as I said, the police detective. In the book. By Tolstoy.”


“Dustin Hoffman.”

“Yeah,” said Buddy. “Uh, Hoffman’s interested in the, uh --”

“Yes. Well -- he’s quite good, isn’t he?”


“Quite quite good.”


“So he is as you say ‘attached’ to the project at this stage.”

“Oh, no. Like I say, he only just read a --”

“So he’s not signed yet?”

“Hoffman? No --”


“No, I wish he was, but --”


“-- like I say, we’re --”

“I understand.”

“-- we’re just --”

“Of course.”

“-- still working on the script, trying to --”

“To make it good.”

“Right. Make it --”

“The throes of creation. But -- and I say this hoping, no, knowing that Hoffman will undoubtedly want the part of the detective -- and did I ever tell you that Dusty and I shared the stage one time, oh, back in ‘67 I believe, in a workshop production of Ubu Roi -- and even then one could see his talent, although I must say he did have a bit of an -- oh shall I say -- an attitude -- but that’s neither here nor there, I’m sure he’s fine to work with now, but -- if there is some small supernumerary part suitable for an old ham like me, I warn you, Buddy, I fully intend to camp on your doorstep! Ha ha just kidding. But seriously, Cordelia, dear, throw something on, and do apply a bit of make-up, and then we shall hail a hansom and wend our way Villageward. Perhaps I shall pop in and join you for a quick bowl of bean soup and a glass of wine and then I promise I will leave you two to -- to catch up, as they say.” He rose from Cordelia’s chair. “Now, Buddy, let’s you and I step outside and let Cordelia get into her costume. Chop-chop, my dear, and remember, a touch of rouge! You look so pale.”

The Mariner waved a beckoning hand in Buddy’s direction, but --

“Stephen, look, I think we’re good.”

“Pardon me.”

“I think Cordelia and I can find a nice place to have lunch on our own.”

“But, I -- but I only wanted to show you this place. It really is quite exquisite. The veal! I don’t know how you feel about veal but they have this one dish -- it’s not on the menu, but I am sure the chef will prepare it if I ask him to -- the veal is pounded, macerated, then it is air-dried for three days -- then, and only then -- it is encrusted --”

“Stephen, we’re cool, really. We’ll find some place.”


“Yeah. We’ll be okay.”

“You’d -- rather I did not -- accompany you.”

“Well, it’s just --”


“It’s just it’s been a while, since we’ve seen each other, and we’d --”

“Oh. I understand.”


“I quite understand.”


“I’ll -- I’ll wander about.”


“I love New York this time of year.”


“Of course it has started to snow, but I -- I like walking in the snow.”


“I am reminded of my first cold winter in New York. So many moons ago. Just a -- a penniless wraith with a dream from Atco, New Jersey. How well I remember my first apartment, not far from here in fact, Hell’s Kitchen, a sixth-floor walk-up infested with cockroaches the size of rats --”

“Papa, fuck off!” said Cordelia.

“I beg your pardon.”



“Leave! Do we have to spell it out? Go!”

“Oh,” said the Mariner. “All right then. And on -- on Christmas.”


“Well, Christmas Eve to be precise. And after I flew all the way out here.”

“No one asked you to come! I hate you!”

“Oh. You don’t mean that.”

“No! I do! I really do! Now go! Go! Go!”

She went over to the Mariner and began pushing at his chest.

“Buddy,” said the Mariner. “Can you believe a daughter would behave like this?”

“Well, you know -- kids,” said Buddy.

Go!” screamed Cordelia, and she began pounding on the Mariner’s chest with her fists.

“I think I get the message, Cordelia,” said the Mariner, his voice quavery with the chest-pounding. “I think I get the message loud and clear. But, perhaps if you --”

Cordelia stopped pounding on the Mariner’s chest, but she kept her fists balled up, chest high.

And now, her eyes closed, she began to scream, loudly.

“Oh dear,” said the Mariner.

Cordelia kept on screaming. It sounded like Tarzan being castrated. Buddy put his hands over his ears.

The door opened. Enter Thelma Ritter.

“What the fuck, Cordelia?”

Cordelia screamed some more. You could tell she had a trained and a powerful voice.

The Mariner turned to Thelma.

“It’s quite all right,” he projected. “I am an actor too.”

Cordelia pointed her finger at the Mariner and cut loose with another long scream which surely resounded all the way through the corridors of the old theatre, through the ironclad stage door and down the alleyway to 42nd Street, causing last-minute holiday shoppers to drop their packages and whip out their cellphones to dial 911.

“Okay,” said Thelma, “time to go, Olivier.”

She took his arm and led him out, leaving the door open.

Cordelia stopped screaming. Buddy removed his hands from his ears.

Then the Mariner’s face and one shoulder appeared in the doorway again.

“You’ll call me, dear. Perhaps we can go to that trattoria for dinner -- and Buddy, too, of course, if --”

Cordelia said nothing. She was panting, sweating, her chest heaving. Some of her ringlets had gone wild and curled down over her face.

“Good, then. Call my cell,” said the Mariner. “And, Buddy, even if I can’t find that Tuscan place I know a superb little bistro Lyonnais in -- in Chelsea I believe --”

Thelma must have given him a yank because he disappeared.

After a couple of seconds Cordelia went over to the door and closed it. She leaned back against it, still breathing heavily, her eyes closed.

“So,” said Buddy. He stood up. His leg gave him a twinge, but that was okay. “Still up for some lunch?”

Cordelia opened her eyes.

“Yes,” she said. The tiny tattoo Saturn on her breast rose and fell with her breathing. “I’m fucking starving.”

the curtain
to thunderous

(Thanks so much to everyone who has read and kindly commented on this story. It means a lot to me, and to Buddy and to Cordelia. And you know the Ancient Mariner absolutely thrives on the attention!)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 209: gone daddy

On February 2, 1960, the New York firm Smythe & Son published Ye Cannot Quench, the first novel of Gertrude Evans (subsequent author of many other titles, such as A Dream of Fair Men; Rainstorm in Rangoon; The Willing Slave; Mambo Fever; and Up Two Flights and Down the Hall). The 978-page book topped out at number 72 on the New York Times bestseller list, and this edition has been out of print since its second printing. The following year Hi-Tone Books republished the novel in paperback, drastically-shortened and retitled I Came I Saw I Conquered; this edition too was out of print within a year. This saga of young love and lust in the big city might have gone forgotten for centuries were it not for our ongoing publication of Railroad Train to Heaven©, in which Arnold Schnabel describes in chilling detail his transformation by the price of darkness into a character in Miss Evans’s novel, the handsome “beat poet” Porter Walker...

(Click here to read our previous episode; the idly curious looking for some relaxing beach reading may go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning sixty-nine volume memoir. ”American literature -- nay, world literature, may be handily divided into two parts: pre-Schnabel and post-Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom, in Women’s Day.)

Freddy had reseated himself on his stool with his accordion. I nodded to him, since he apparently knew me. He smiled and squeezed out a merry chord.

I took my position before the microphone stand.

“Good to see you again, handsome,” said Ursula, standing to my left, this tiny old woman with her large saxophone.

“Always good to see Porter,” said Magda, over her shoulder, and, using her left hand, she tinkled the high keys of her piano.

“Keep your frock on, darling,” said Ursula. “Only possible thing worse you could do than hooking up with a musician would be a poet. No offense, Porter.”

“Oh, no, I would agree,” I hastened to say.

Without looking at her instrument but looking at me with half-closed eyes Magda tickled the keys of her piano again with her elegant long fingers.

“I like Porter,” she said.

“I like him too,” said Ursula. “But he’s not the sort of man a smart girl marries.”

“I never said I wanted to marry him,” said Magda.

Gabriel blew a single note from his trumpet, a note that blossomed into the room like a spurt of blue ink in a pool of water, the bongo man answered with a flurry of taps like a handful of marbles thrown against a wall, and the bass man thumbed another deep note that pushed the cigarette smoke up and away over the heads of our audience.

“Hey, daddy, read your damn poem!” somebody yelled.

“Yeah, go ahead, Mr. Walker,” said Maxie.

“Yeah, go, daddy,” yelled someone else.

Like a sacred wind!” called Emily.

“Good evening,” I said, into the microphone, and I heard my voice booming through the crowd. “I should like to read to you now a page or so from my new epic poem, titled The Brawny Embraces, soon to be published by Smythe & Son and available at better book shops everywhere.”

I was amazed at how well my voice sounded, how calm and euphonious, and then I remembered that I was someone else, someone who spoke with the trained confident voice of an actor, not someone who spoke as I had my whole life, i.e., in a halting and quite often nonsensical mumble.

“Go! Go, daddy!” someone yelled again, which was really getting annoying, to tell the truth.

And suddenly I had an awful stabbing memory of the one other time in my life that I had read my poetry aloud. A Catholic women’s club back home had set it up. It was in this local bookshop, McGrath’s, on 5th Street, on the second floor. On a rainy cold Tuesday evening I read my bad poems to a bunch of desperate-looking ladies. When I had finally finished they clapped and looked less desperate. They all shook my hand. Finally I escaped and ducked around the corner to the VFW and had a quick Four Roses with a mug of Schmidt’s, and I swore never again.

But here I was.

I raised up that thick sheath of typescript and looked at the top page, I adjusted the microphone on its pivot to a more comfortable angle, and I spoke:

Yea, you people ask me,
Yes, you wearers of the button-down Arrow shirt,
As well as you sporters of the black beret
And the Greek fisherman’s cap, you all ask me
Why? Why do I write and for whom and from whence?

For whom, you ask? For what?
I’ll tell you --

“Tell us, Daddy-o!” someone yelled.

“Yeah! Go! Go!” yelled some other idiot.

“G’ahead, Mr. Walker,” said Maxie, encouragingly.

“Okay,” I said. I had lost my place, I ran my finger over the page. “Oh, here we go --”

For the great pounding sea I write
For the black blinking sky I write;

For the dirt in an empty lot
For the broken beer bottles there
For the weeds that force themselves
Up through the dirt and broken glass
And into the stench of a bright sun-blasted day;

For the cracked sidewalk outside my building
For the gutter and the butts and chewing gum in it
For the filthy bricks of my tenement
For the creaking wood of its stairs
For its smell of rotting food and of sweat,
For the peeling wallpaper in my pad
For the roaches that scurry across my cracked linoleum
For the linoleum too
And for the ancient newspapers that lie beneath it
Cracked and brown and covered with dead words and with
Faded photographs of the dead,
And for the moldy wood that lies beneath that,
For the termites in the wood
For the termites’ dream of the world
For the world’s dream of a termite
For the air in front of my face
For just about anything I write
Even for human beings
You strange creatures who walk along these sidewalks
And occasionally with whom I exchange words
Yes, even for you I write
But mostly I write because I must
Just as I must eat and drink
And perforce must defecate and urinate
Just as I must sleep and then awaken
Just as I must breathe
As well as sometimes cough or belch or fart.
Just as I must someday die.

“Go, daddy! Go! Go!” my fans yelled.

“Yeah, go, Mr. Walker,” said Maxie.

I continued:

Take these words, O ocean, O sky
Take these words, O air and walls and dirt and mud
Take these words, O cockroaches, O dreaming termites
Take these words, yes, even you,
You beings who call yourselves human,
Take them as you would a tasty meal of beans and beer
Consume them
Consume me
Digest them
And me
And then these words
And I
Will become part of you.

This seemed like maybe a good spot to quit while I was still ahead.

I lowered the sheath of poetry and stared out at the crowd.

“Go! Go, daddy!” and various permutations of those two words were again shouted, and it sounded as if several more people had joined the chorus.

Even Ralph Edwards and Edward R. Murrow and John Cameron Swayze had gotten up and come over to the performing area, along with Carlotta and Pat, and Nicky, although I didn’t see Emily.

Pat put two fingers in her lips and let out a great shrill whistle.

Woo hoo! Porter!” yelled Carlotta, pumping her fist in the air.

Over at the bar Bunny was yelling “Bravo!”, while Betsy just sat there with her lovely legs crossed, smoking and looking at me.

I realized that the whole band had been playing jazz music behind me, and that they were still playing.

Ursula drew the saxophone’s mouthpiece away from her lips and tapped me on the arm.

“Give them some more, Porter,” she said. “They’re eating it up.”

I raised the sheath of epic poetry again, and read:

I who know nothing much
Will speak much of nothing much
I who see little and who make little
Sense of what I see
Will speak much of the little I see
And of what little sense I make of it;

I who have not the faintest idea
Of the meaning of anything
Will speak much of the meaning
Of everything;

I who will someday lie on my deathbed
Looking back on a life which has passed
As a dream
Will speak much of life irregardless --

Regardless!” yelled Emily, shoving her way through the crowd again with what looked like a fresh drink. “I meant to red-pencil that ‘ir’!”

“Hmm,” I said, “You’re perfectly right, Emily.”
I resumed:

Will speak much of life, regardless.

“Much better!” yelled Emily.

“Hey, let him read, doll-face,” said Maxie.

“Who you calling doll-face, shrimp?” said Emily, and she swung her purse at his head, hitting him on the ear. He staggered backwards into the crowd and she went after him, drawing her purse back again. Fortunately Ralph Edwards jumped forward and grabbed her by the waist and she just missed Maxie with her second swing.

“Let go of me!” yelled Emily.

“Now, now, dear,” said Ralph.

“No little homunculus is going to call me doll-face,” she said, struggling and kicking.

“I’m sure he meant nothing disparaging,” said Ralph, gripping her tightly and smiling with gritted teeth.

Two or three other shoving matches had started up in the area that Maxie had stumbled into, people shouted angrily, the audience now buzzed and swarmed within itself like a hornets’ nest that a child has poked with a stick.

“Keep reading, Porter,” called Freddy.

“You think I should?”

“Sure,” he said. “Best way to settle down a bar brawl is just to keep playing as if nothing is happening.” Which indeed he and rest of the band had continued to do.

I lifted up that heavy stack of paper again and read, loudly and firmly:

I do not know why.
Nor do I care.
Nor do I know why
I do not care,
Nor do I care why
I do not know or care why I do not know
Or care.
But I will speak much nonetheless
None the more
Or less
I will speak much
Of the more
And of the less.
I will speak much
Of the less that is more
Than the less
And much will I speak
Of the more
That is less
Than much.

I will speak much.

I looked up from the poem. The band played on behind me. The scuffling had quieted down. The people all stared at me. Maxie was back in the front row, holding a bleeding ear, but he looked content. Even Julian had finally got up from his bar seat and come over, probably to keep an eye on Emily, whose arm he held, keeping her at a safe distance from Maxie.

“Gone, daddy,” said Maxie. “Gone.”

(Continued here, because I have a mother and two bartenders to support.)

(Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find what we hope is a reasonably up-to-date listing of links to all other publicly available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©; grateful thanks to the Arnold Schnabel Society for access to the Arnold Schnabel Archive in the basement of the Olney Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia; special thanks for the sponsorship of Evan Williams Bourbon™: ”The bourbon that quite decidedly does not taste of old shoe leather.”)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 59: come sit

It’s the day before Christmas in New York City in the year 2003, and our hero Buddy Best finds himself in a dressing room in an old theatre off 42nd Street, in the company of the fabulous Cordelia...

(Please click here to read our previous chapter, or go here to return to the beginning of Uncle Buddy’s House™. “A laugh-filled fun-fest for the whole family, depending of course on what kind of family you have.” -- J.J. Hunsecker in The Family Circle.)

“Okay, let’s see --” Buddy got out the old Ronson butane, reached over, and gave her a light. “-- so, uh, you haven’t been talking to Deirdre lately?”

“Oh, sure. Do you want one of these?” She tapped the cigarette box.

“No thanks. Well, you probably know all there is to know then. In fact you probably know more than I do.”

“Well -- when did we last talk?”

“I don’t know. August?”

“Right,” she said. “That sounds right.”

“So I told you about Madge -- Shakira -- and her husband and kid moving in with us.”

“Right. But you didn’t say why.”

“Yeah. ‘Cause I didn’t know. Still don’t really.”

“You don’t?”

“Well, I just gathered they weren’t getting along too well with the head monk --”

“Buddy --”


“Shakira was having an affair with the head monk.”

“She was?”

“Yes. And her husband -- Om?”

“That’s right. Om. But I call him Al.”

“Why do you call him Al?”

“’Cause that’s his real name. Albert, Al. I can’t call someone Om.”

“Anyway, Om, or Al, found out about the affair and punched the head monk in the nose, Buddy.”


“And broke it.”


“So the head monk kicked him out of the ashram, and Shakira and the little boy -- Mukund?”

“Mukund, right, I call him Mookie, or Mook.”

“Anyway the head monk told Shakira that she and Mukund could stay but she decided to go with Om. Or Al.”

“Wow. So Deirdre --”

“Told me all this.”

“Nobody tells me nothing.”

“Ha. And how’s it working out with all these people in your house?”

“It’s -- crowded. Liz moved in with Deirdre in Deirdre’s room, and Madge-or-Shakira and Om-or-Al are in Liz’s room. Philip’s still got his room, and Mookie’s in the attic.”

“You’re really sweet, Buddy.”

“Well, what could I do? They had no money, no place to go.”

“No other relatives?”

“Um -- well -- I don’t think either of them has any relatives who have as much space as I do --”

“No other relatives as nice as you are. And you’re not even a relative.”

“Madge is my ex-wife, Philip’s and Liz’s mom. I couldn’t turn them away.”

“Yeah, so how long do you think Shakira and Om and Mukund are going to stay?”

“Well, nobody’s said anything about moving yet.”


“But, it’s okay. Al got a job working in a pottery place and Madge works in a health food store, so, you know, they kick in a little.”

She put out the cigarette in the tin ashtray. With her head lowered she looked at Buddy, and he thought perhaps she was going to say something serious about how she felt about him, or then again maybe she was just going to tell him some more about how great a guy he was.

“Y’know, you’ve lost weight, Buddy.”

“Yeah,” said Buddy, “I did actually. I lost twenty pounds in the two weeks after I got shot.”

“Oh my God, how?”

She leaned forward, her head cocked rigidly to one side.

“I don’t know. Hospital food, enforced deprivation from beer and wine. Pain, painkillers. Then when I started to feel better I just decided to try to keep it off.”

She nudged her chair a few inches closer to Buddy.

“Okay, you have to tell me how you keep it off.”

“Well, first step, you have to get shot.”

“Okay, skip the first step.”

“This is embarrassing, but I hired a personal trainer at the gym for a while.”

“That’s not embarrassing.”

“Yeah, well. So I got in the habit of working out regularly at the gym --”

“How often?”

“I go four times a week usually, plus I swim at home most days.”

“Okay what about diet?”

“Well, I really didn’t change my diet --”


“Um -- wait, drinking is diet, right?”

“Of course.”

“Okay, and this was the hard part, really -- I went down to three drinks a day. Usually.”

“Three! That’s a lot!”

“Maybe for you it is.”

“Okay, what else?”

“Um --”

“What about snacks?”

“Well, I’ve never been a big snack eater.”

“What about sugar? Chocolate?”


Buddy soldiered on:

“I lay low on the sugar and chocolate, but there’s not a complete -- interdiction.”

“Well, all right, go on.”

“That’s about it, really.”

“That’s all?”


“What about red meats and stuff?”

“Oh, right, I try to lay off red meat, beef anyway, but I eat everything else.”

“You mean even starches, pasta, bread? Carbs?”

“Oh, sure, I can’t give that stuff up. And, besides, this really good bakery opened up down Ivar --”

“It’s not fair,” she said.

“What’s not fair?”

“That you can keep off twenty pounds just by swimming a little and going to the gym a few times a week.”

“Well, actually I only kept off around fifteen pounds --”

“That’s a lot! I could never keep off fifteen pounds! I don’t understand! Three drinks a day -- I barely have one a day. It’s not fair. And I exercise like a maniac every day. Every day. I go to dance class, I work out, I walk --”

“Cordelia --”


“You’re not fat.”

“Oh, right.”

“You don’t need to lose weight.”

“Maybe you think so.”

“I know so.”


“Look, Cordelia, you know what? You’re never going to be stick-thin. And you know what else? This is a good thing. You’ve got curves. You look like a woman. You look great. You’ve got Robert Altman wanting you to star in his next picture. I mean, wake the fuck up.” He took a breath. “Not that there’s anything wrong with being fat. It’s just you’re not. So get over it.”

She did that lower-lip biting thing. Her eyes seemed to glaze over for a moment. Then --

“Oh, hey!” she said. “Do you want a drink? I have this.”

She opened a drawer under her make-up table and pulled out a never-opened bottle of eighteen-year-old Elijah Craig.

“Hey, cool, where’d you get that?”

“One of the producers gave it to me opening night. I think he wanted to get in my pants. It didn’t work though. Is it any good?”

“All bourbon is good, but I suspect this one is really good.”

“Goody goody then.”

She pulled off two of the pink plastic cups from the stack on the table and set them up.

“Here, let me,” said Buddy, and he took the bottle and started removing the seal.

“Should we add water?” asked Cordelia.

“Just a drop,” said Buddy.

He uncorked the bottle and poured out a couple. She ripped the plastic cap off of the full bottle of Evian, backhanded the cap against the outside of the wastebasket, and then carefully added one drop of water to each cup.

“Okay,” said Buddy.

“Here’s mud in your eye,” said Cordelia, and she drank hers down at a gulp. Buddy swirled his, sniffed it, then sipped it, while Cordelia waved her hand at her gasping mouth.

“Oh my God, should I have sipped it?”

“Yeah, but don’t worry about it.”

“Okay. Whew!”

Waving her hand at her mouth.

“Drink some water,” said Buddy.

She lifted up the Evian bottle and drank four big gulps out of it. After a brief hyperventilation exercise she returned abruptly to normal for her and said:

“So, Deirdre’s fine?”

“Baby, I’m sure you know infinitely more about her life than I do.”

“How about Liz?”

“Liz is great. Writing her memoirs --”

“Cool. And Philip?”

“He’s good, working for me, helping me write this new script. He got me to read Dostoyevsky, believe it or not --”

“Oh, your cat, your cute cat, how is she?”

“Ming? She’s, uh, she’s --”

“And how’s Marjorie?”

“Fine,” said Buddy. “Great. Super.”

Cordelia put her hand over her mouth and, sliding her face slowly side to side, said:

“Are you still seeing her?”

Buddy put his hand over his own mouth and fake-whispered:

“It’s part of my job to see her. She’s my publicist.”

She lowered her hand.

“Jerk, you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, sorry, no, we’re not boning any more.”

“Oh really why?”

“Well, she found a new, uh, extracurricular activity.”

“What? Who? When?”

“It was like September, she dumped me like a hot potato for some twenty-four-year-old teen heartthrob.”



“An actor?”

“Well, that’s how he makes a living. He’s on that TV show, what’s it called --”

“I wouldn’t know it, Buddy, I don’t watch TV. So,” she said.




“Have you been seeing anyone else?”

“Believe it or not, no.”

“Oh. Really. I thought you were supposed to be such a big lady’s man.”

“Oh yeah, that’s me.”

“So why no ladies?”

“I don’t know. But. Y’know, I’ve discovered something about not being involved with a woman. It was something that I guess it was hard for me to discover before because I’ve practically always been involved with a woman. Or women.”

“Or a hundred women.”

“I’ve discovered that being celibate is very -- restful.”


“Yeah,” said Buddy.


“Yeah.” (Although, truth be told, sitting here talking with and looking at Cordelia sitting there wide-eyed in her slip: restful be damned.) “And how about you, baby?” he asked.

“What about me?”

“Your love life. What about that guy you told me all about last time we talked.”

“Oh, him.”

“Yeah, the guy you were all --”

“I wasn’t all --”

“Well, you sounded pretty all the last time we talked on the phone.”

“Wait, who was this, the actor guy?”

“Yeah, the actor guy.”

“Oh, him. I was over him in a week.”


“Did you stop calling me because of him?”

“Uh, no --”

“Oh, Buddy.”

“Well, y’know, you talked about that dude for like an hour.”

“Oh. Was I boring?”

“Everybody is boring when they talk about someone they’re stuck on.”

“Well, he wasn’t worth talking about for an hour, I’ll tell you that. A minute maybe. I thought you meant this other guy.”

“Oh, another guy.”

“Yeah, I met him right after the first guy. A doctor. La de da --”

“Yeah, so --”


“So what’s up with this other guy?”

“I don’t want to talk about him, Buddy. Okay?”


“But let me just ask you something.”

“All right.”

“Just ask you.”

“Fire when ready.”

“Is it normal -- no, maybe that’s not the right word -- is it nice, to, to only want a woman to, oh, God, I can’t even say
it --”

She put her hands over her face.

“Well, you don’t have to say it if you’re uncomfortable --”

She put her hands down.

“Well, maybe I won’t. But, you know, here’s the thing --” She leaned forward, and Buddy got a glimpse of cleavage, and, just like in the good old days, he tried not to look -- “you know I’m trying, I mean I have been trying -- I mean, I was ready to, to, for once, try to have like a real adult, you know, sexual relationship -- you know, I mean, I was ready to give that a try -- and I was attracted, and I thought he was attracted to me -- but --”



“Look, Cordelia, it didn’t work out with this dude, right? Ben Casey?”

“Ben Casey?”

“Bachelor number two. Dr. Kildare.”

“You’re strange, Buddy. But, no, it didn’t work out, and it was all because he turned out to be such a weirdo, weirdo, I don’t know -- pervert weirdo --”

“So, okay, chalk it up to experience. There’ll be plenty more dudes down the road.”

She turned her gaze to the floor and Buddy sipped the last of his excellent whiskey. Then:

“Buddy,” she said.


She looked up.

“When is your train?”

“There’s trains all day. We have time for a nice lunch.”

“Okay.” She stood up, took off the bathrobe. She had on the ivory-colored slip she’d worn in the play. She dropped the robe over her chair. “Let me get dressed and we’ll go have lunch. Turn around.”

“I’ve seen you undressed, baby.”

“I know. Now turn around.”

“Okay, but one thing first.”


The slip had white lace trim at the bodice and hem. Buddy reached over and put his empty plastic cup on the table.

“Come sit on my lap.”

(Please click here for the thrilling final episode of Uncle Buddy’s House.)

(Kindly check the right-hand column of this page for a listing of links to all other electronically-accessible chapters of
Uncle Buddy’s House™; soon to be presented by the Mercury Theatre in a special adaptation written and directed by Orson Welles and starring John Barrymore and Dolores Costello.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 208: go daddy

Return with us once again to a certain hot and rainy night in the summer of 1957, and to that Mecca of Bohemia known as Greenwich Village, where in a crowded and lively tavern called the Kettle of Fish we find our hero Arnold Schnabel, whom the prince of darkness has transformed into “Porter Walker, romantic and handsome young poet”, a character in a now-forgotten bestseller titled Ye Cannot Quench, by Gertrude Evans, author of many other fine novels such as Portia’s Passion; Lay Deep the Main Pipe, Plumbers!; Love’s Sweet Fury; and Portia’s Penance.

(Click here to see our preceding chapter; go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning fifty-nine volume memoir. "I passed my last trans-Atlantic cruise for the most part quite contentedly sitting in a deck chair with a blanket over my lap, re-reading Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom, in the National Geographic.)

Bunny was leaning his great bulk toward Betsy, so much so that he seemed liable to fall off his bar stool, and incidentally taking up all the narrow space I had just been standing in. He was talking loudly and waving one hand, while Betsy leaned away from him, nodding her head and smiling the way one smiles when undergoing a vaccination.

I stood behind Bunny, and made a coughing noise. 

He didn’t hear me, or if he did he made no indication thereof.

“Excuse me, Bunny?” I said.

Bunny kept talking. I heard the words “dialectical materialism”, “Wittgenstein”, “Kafka”, “crisis”, “being and nothingness”, “ontological” and “eschatological”.

I stood there. Gabriel was playing a solo again on his trumpet, and only now did I realize he had been “blowing” for several minutes at least.

“Hey,” I said. “Bunny.”

Again he didn’t hear me or at least he didn’t seem to hear me. But I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. He was not young after all. Perhaps his hearing was impaired from too many nights spent listening to bebop.

Apparently Betsy hadn’t heard me either over Bunny’s monologue, nor could she see me see me the way she sat at an obtuse angle from him with her face lowered towards her martini.

“Kafka,” said Bunny, “Knut Hamsun. Goddam Huysmans!”

“I just want you to know I’m thinking about forgiving you,” said the fly, who was buzzing by my right ear again.

I put my hand over my mouth and muttered, “Jesus, will you leave me alone?”

“Oh, now you’re the aggrieved one?” he said. “By the way, you don’t have to mutter into your hand like that. I can hear your thoughts.”

“Really?” I thought.

“Yeah, sure, but only if I’m right near your brain like this, ‘specially in a noisy joint like this place.”

“Well, that’s great.’

“No need to be sarcastic. Just don’t be grabbing me in your fist like you just did. How you think that makes me feel?”


“So okay, tell me, do you not want to get in this Betsy babe’s pants or what?”

“No. I mean I do, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. I mean, it’s just --”

“Oh, please, pal, spare me the ratiocinations. If you want to sit outside in the corridor while everyone else is having a ball at life’s great feast then be my guest.”

“Okay then.”

“Right, I gotta question for ya.”


“Whaddaya think of this Pat babe?”

“Pat? I don’t know.”

“You don’t find her attractive?”

“No, sure she’s attractive --”

“You think she’s stuck up at all?”

“I don’t know. I hardly know her.”

“But Carlotta’s cool, right?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Whaddaya mean, you 'guess', from what I gather you and her --”

“All right, change the subject.”

“Sheesh, you are a square at heart, ain’t ya?”

“Yes, I’m a square.”

“So anyway I’m thinking of making a move on her.”

“On Carlotta.”

“Yes,” said the fly. “I mean if that’s okay with you.”

“Sure,” I said to myself.

“’Cause I think that Pat babe’s kinda stuck up. She kept swatting at me. Swatting every time I try to land on her.”

“Oh, that’s too bad.”

“So it’s okay with you I make a move on Carlotta.”

“I don’t care.”

“Love ‘em and leave for you, huh, pal?”

I tried not to dignify this question with even a nonverbal remark.

“Okay, good then,” said the fly. “I’m off to make my move.”


“Yeah. I’m gonna fly over and see if I can land on her bosom for a while. She ain’t as stacked as Pat but I think she’s got a nicer personality.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Wish me luck.”

“Good luck,” I thought.

He flew away, over toward the TV guys’ table, where Pat and Carlotta were still sitting. In fact Pat was sitting on Ralph Edwards’s lap, and Carlotta was on Edward R. Murrows’s knee, but John Cameron Swayze was trying to shift her over onto his lap. It looked like the fly had his work cut out for him.

Suddenly the band came to a halt in their song, and applause and shouting broke out.

“Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen,” said the amplified voice of Freddy through his microphone, “thank you very much, you’re very kind, very kind indeed.”

Same old Freddy, even if this was a fictional universe. He loved to butter up the audience.

“We’re going to do one more number before we take a little break,” continued Freddy, “but before we do, I see we have a certain gentleman here tonight who made such a wonderful impression during last week’s Tuesday night jam session.”

Bunny was still talking loudly and nonstop, still leaning way over toward Betsy and taking up the space I had been standing in.

I gave it another try.

“Hey! Bunny!” I said.

Unfortunately Bunny had reached such an excited plateau of his monologue that he was almost shouting at Betsy. I heard the phrase “existential imperative”, the names “Kant”, “Schopenhauer”, and “Kierkegaard”, the words “sex” and “death” and “blood”.

There was nothing for it, I would have to tap him on the shoulder, and I hate to tap people on the shoulder.

“So what do you say, Porter?” said the disembodied voice of Freddy.

I turned.

It seemed that everyone in the place was staring at me. Well, no, that’s an exaggeration, it was mostly the people who were standing in front of the band who had turned to stare at me. Most of the people in the bar probably went on doing whatever they were already doing, including Bunny who continued shouting more names and words, “Lawrence”, “Joyce”, “Pound”, “internal monologue”, “free indirect discourse”...

“Come on, Porter,” said Freddy. “Recite one of your very fabulous poems for us!”

Several of the people near the stage yelled, “Go, daddy-o! Go! Go!”

Someone grabbed my arm.

“Go ahead, Mr. Walker! Knock ‘em dead!”

It was a little guy with sunglasses. Like Bunny he wore jeans and a t-shirt and a billed cap.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“It’s me, Mr. Walker, Maxie.”


He took off his sunglasses.

“Your waiter at the Oak Room. I guess you don’t recognize me ‘cause I ain’t got my monkey suit on.”

“Oh, hi,” I said.

“Come on.” He put his sunglasses back on and pulled my arm. “Your fans wanna hear you recite.”

“Go, daddy! Go! Go!” cried my apparent fans, and Freddy spoke gently but insistently into his microphone: “Don’t be shy, Porter. Come on, now.”

Behind me I could still hear Bunny’s booming voice: “pathetic fallacy”, “negative capability”, “dark night of the soul”.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Freddy into his microphone, “let’s hear it for the voice of his generation, the very talented young poet, Mr. Porter Walker!”

Maxie was pulling me closer to the band area, which wasn’t that far away to begin with, and people were stepping aside to let us through. Several fellows clapped me on the shoulder, and people continued to shout, “Go! Go, daddy-o, Go!”

I pulled up short several feet from what would have been the stage, if there had been a stage.

“I can’t recite,” I said, to everyone, but primarily to Freddy, who had gotten off his stool and was twisting the clutch of his microphone stand, raising the microphone to the height of a six-foot man’s chin.

“Nonsense, dear boy,” said Freddy, sliding the stand a couple of feet to his left.

“Yeah, get up here, poet man,” commanded Ursula, lighting a cigarette in her black holder.

“Don’t play so hard to get,” said Magda, sitting with her legs crossed on her piano bench. Gabriel had just given her a light with his lighter, and he lighted a cigarette for himself.

“Come on, Porter,” said Gabriel. “Tell it like it is, man.”

The giant bassist thumbed one deep reverberant note, it seemed to enter through my penis and travel up my spine to my brain where it banged around on the inner walls of my skull.

The bongoist stared at me and then attacked his drums briefly but loudly, producing a sound like a firing squad ending some poor coward’s life.

“Let’s go, Mr. Walker,” said Maxie, as people all around me continued to shout “Go! Go!”

“Give the people what they want,” said Maxie. “A brief glimpse of eternity and sublimity, like.”

“But I don’t have any poems on me,” I said.

“Wait! Porter! Wait!”

I turned. It was Emily, rushing toward me, shoving people out of her way, almost stumbling on her high heels but recovering her balance and sliding to a stop right in front of me, opening her briefcase.

“Here, Porter,” she said. “I have your poem.”

She pulled out a great sheath of typescript.

“I finished retyping your latest revisions last night. I made only a few minor corrections in the case of obvious misspellings and unintentional solecisms. For instance you consistently say ‘infer’ when you mean ‘imply’ and say ‘her and I’ when you mean ‘her and me’. Here.”

Putting the briefcase on the floor she riffled though the manuscript, found a certain page, then separated the sheath so that this page was on the top of its own pile. She then put this pile on top of the other, making it one big pile again.

“Look, here’s a lovely passage, Porter.”

She handed me the manuscript, which I should say was approximately the size of a large city’s telephone directory.

She tapped the top page with her fingertip.

“It’s where you express your artistic credo.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

“Go, go, go!” yelled the people.

Emily stepped closer to me, and put her face near mine.

“Oh, Porter,” she whispered, “darling Porter --”

Maxie, who was still holding my arm, leaned in closer also, not wanting to miss a thing.

“Hey, give us some room to breathe, half-pint,” said Emily, and
putting her hand on his chest she gave him a shove. He staggered backwards, his arms flailing, but a couple of fellows caught him before he could fall.

Emily looked up into my face. It occurred to me that she had probably just bolted two or possibly even three quick Old Fashioneds.

“Go, my darling Porter,” said Emily. “Read, read like the wind!”

“The wind --?”

“Like a divine wind, a divine afflatus rising up from the pit of your soul and out of your mouth.”

“I dunno --”

“Your lovely mouth.”

I looked past her, back towards the bar. Bunny had finally stopped speaking, and both he and Betsy were turned in their stools, looking towards me.

“I can’t do this,” I muttered, to no one in particular.

Another, new hand was on my shoulder.

This time it was Gabriel. A cigarette dangled from his lips, and from under his porkpie hat his dark eyes looked into my eyes.

“It’s cool, man,” he said.

I couldn’t be absolutely certain, but I was sure that he knew me, that is that he knew I was Arnold Schnabel, the same Arnold Schnabel who had smoked that extremely powerful marijuana with him last night, seven years in the future, in Josh’s suite at the Chalfonte.

“Gabriel,” I said.

“Call me Gabe, man.”

“Gabe, have you seen Josh?”

He took his hand off my shoulder, took the cigarette out of his mouth.

“Sure, man, he’s around.”

“Thank God.”

“Heh heh,” he said. “You mean ‘thank Josh’?”

“Who’s this ‘Josh’?” said Emily.

“Just a cat we know, pretty lady,” said Gabriel.

Everyone (well, a half dozen people maybe, but it felt to me like everyone) was still yelling, “Go! Go! Go, Daddy, go!”

Magda produced with the fingers of her left hand a ripple of dark-sounding notes from the piano, a ripple answered by another deep rumbling boom from the bassist and a machine-gun burst of taps from the bongo man.

“So go on, man,” said Gabe. “Get up and testify, then we’ll have a rap later.”

I didn’t know what a “rap” was.

“Plus I got some righteous tea I want you to try.”

“He doesn’t drink tea,” said Emily. “He drinks coffee, black.”

I glanced back at the bar. Through the smoke my eyes met Betsy’s.

She put her open hand to the side of her mouth and called, “Go, Porter! Go!”

“Grab the mike, man,” said Gabriel. “Do it to it. Shake it but don’t break it.”

“Pardon me?”

“Read your poem, man.”

“Go, daddy!” yelled the people. Well, a few of the people. Some looked like they were losing interest.

“Well, maybe just a page,” I said.

“Sure, man,” said Gabe.

“Like the wind, Porter!” said Emily. “A divine wind! A wind of words that will change the world!”

“Well, I don’t know about that --”

“Shake a leg, Lermontov,” called Ursula.

“Okay, sorry,” I said, and I walked over to the microphone stand.

(Continued here, if only because of certain legal obligations incurred as a result of imbibing too much absinthe.)

(Please turn to the right hand side of this page to find what one hopes is an up-to-date listing of links to all other publicly available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©; this project made possible in part by Vaseline™: ”The lubricant that also serves as an admirable bald head wax.”)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 58: backstage

(We now raise the curtain on the final act of our story, which we will present in three parts, Jah willing…)

After our preceding episode thousands of fans sent in postcards and letters, demanding to know “What happened next with Buddy and Cordelia? Do they ever see each other again? And what about the Ancient Mariner?” To answer these questions let us leap forward in time, through the summer and autumn of the year, to Christmastime...

(Go here to read our previous episode, or click here to return to the very first chapter of Uncle Buddy’s House™. “I laughed, I sighed, I cried.” -- J.J. Hunsecker in Man’s Adventure.)

Thelma Ritter knocked on the door, and Buddy heard Cordelia’s voice from inside:


Thelma cracked the door and peeked in.

“Cordelia, your friend is here?”

“Oh! send him right in!”

The lady held the door open, Buddy went in, and there she was, Cordelia, twisted around in her chair at her make-up table, in a pink terrycloth robe, and with cold cream all over her face.


She popped up from her chair, she had her hair tied up, a few sprays of dark curls dancing around.

“Hi,” said Buddy.

She stepped forward and stopped. He was carrying his coat, his overnight bag, and --

“What’s this?” she said.

“Flowers. Merry Christmas.”

“You’re so old-fashioned! Thank you!”

She took the roses, gave them a quick sniff, looked around, stepped back and laid them on her table. Then she turned to Buddy and waved her hands around.

“I want to kiss you, Buddy, but I have this gunk all over my face.”

“Give me a hug, then.”

She came over and hugged him, holding her face away from his.

“I’ll leave you lovebirds,” said old Thelma.

“Thanks, Ethel!”

Thelma/Ethel left the door ajar, Cordelia went over and closed it.

“Here, give me your coat.”

She took the coat, and hung it on a peg on the wall.

“Okay. Buddy, sit.” She indicated a folding chair to the left of her table, with a black brassiere draped over it. “Oh, wait --” She grabbed the bra and tossed it onto a pile of clothes between the chair and the table.

He went over, sat down, put the bag on the floor.

“Oh,” she said. “You’re limping. Does your leg hurt?”

“Hardly at all.”

“Oh,” she said again, with feminine sympathy.

And she stood there, shimmering, quivering infinitesimally at supersonic speed, oh, but wait, that was just Buddy. He took off his glasses and put them in his shirt pocket.

“Hey, finish getting that crap off your face,” he said.

“So you can kiss me?”

“So I can see you.”


She sat down at the table and went to work with the contents of a big plastic bag of cotton balls. The tabletop was fabulously cluttered with make-up jars and brushes and pencils, bottles of lotions and unguents, combs and hairbrushes, a tin ashtray with only a few butts in it, a cellphone, an opened box of Marlboros, a Bic lighter, an empty bottle of Diet Green Tea Snapple, an empty litre-bottle of Evian and a full litre-bottle of Evian, a stack of pink plastic cups, a matching pink family-size box of Puffs, and, hello, an almost-full bottle of Chanel #5 -- was it the same one? -- and, yes, yep, the famous white plastic purse.

“So, tell me what you thought of the play,” she said, speaking into her make-up mirror, which had those little light bulbs all along its borders, just like in a Bette Davis movie, except some of these bulbs were dead.

“I thought you were terrific,” said Buddy.

“Really? Because I tend to feel like I suck at matinées.”

“Matinées tend to suck, but you didn’t, you were fucking fabulous.”



“You didn’t think I was a little -- much?”

“Nah, fuck no.”

“’Cause I know you thought I was way much that night you saw me in La voix humaine.”

A brief pause here, comprising the following activity in Buddy’s brain: La voix -- what? Oh, right, Cocteau. La voix humaine. And you. In that slip --

“Right?” said Cordelia.

“Uh, what?”

“You said I was, and I quote, ‘a little over the top’.”

“My friend, you’ve got a memory like a fucking elephant.”

“I’m a woman. Plus I’m an actress. I have a memory like a herd of fucking elephants. You didn’t like the show today really, did you?”

“Sure I did. Sure.”

And how good did she look sitting there in that bathrobe. The way it fit around her hips and butt, oh Christ, if women only knew --

“It’s okay if you didn’t,” she said.

But of course they did know, or at least they knew some of the time --

She turned and looked Buddy in the eye.

“Or did you?” she said.


“You did?”

“What did I do?”

“God, you never pay attention to me!”

“Sure I do. I just get -- distracted. So -- what did I --”

“You didn’t like the play.”

“Oh --”

“You didn’t.”

“No -- I mean, yes --”

“Buddy, just be honest, I can take it --”

“Okay, honest -- you were fucking great, and the guy was good too --”

“But you didn’t like the play.”

“No, not at all, I mean, yes, sure I did. I mean, Strindberg -- what’s not to like?” To tell the truth he had barely followed the play itself, he had been absorbed in looking at her, listening to her, watching her, and she had been fucking great, but maybe he had not been completely objective -- “Anyway, you were great.”

“I wasn’t great.”

“I thought you were great. You are great.”

“You think so?”

“Well, you’re pretty damn good.”

“Thanks. I’m just so -- I’m just so glad to be in a good play, with a great part -- even if you don’t like the play --”

“No, no, not at all -- I mean, it’s -- you know, a modern classic --”

Buddy realized that she was wearing pink fuzzy slippers that matched her robe. She turned.


“Nothing,” said Buddy.

“No, what?”

“It’s just, you look so, so fuckin’, you look so --”

“Oh, stop it,” she said.

Buddy did. And sat there watching her work her cotton balls, tossing the used ones at and sometimes into a nearly overflowing wastebasket on the floor to her right.

Old show posters on the walls, Wait Until Dark, The Night of the Iguana, Marat/Sade, Applause...

“Oh, hey,” he said, “by the way, we’re supposed to be doing a movie sometime around this spring, and I was wondering, I mean, if you were interested, it’s got a pretty good female lead, well, what would I know, but --”

She turned, cotton ball in hand.

“You’re offering me the lead in your next movie?”

“Well, I mean -- if you liked the part --”

“Oh, Buddy.”


She went back to her cotton balls.

“Buddy, I’d love to do a movie with you, and I really mean that, but the thing is this show closes next month but then I go right into rehearsals for this new musical version of The Three Sisters --”

“Ah --”


“Chekhov, right?”

“Very good.”

“Good old Anton.”

“Except the director still doesn’t know which sister he wants me to play.”

“Baby, I’m sure you’ll be great no matter which one it is.”

“Thanks, Buddy. You have to come out and see me in it!”

“Hey, count on it.”

“But who knows, maybe the show will bomb and then I’ll be free to do your movie. Crawling back to you.”

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”

“I’ve had some other movie offers too I had to turn down.”

“Anything interesting?”

“Oh, mostly all this vampire and horror stuff, like Joe was begging me to do the sequel to the Northwest Mountie movie, but -- I don’t know, I don’t want to get typecast as the vampire movie queen, y’know?”

“Good idea.”

“Oh, but wait -- you might know -- do you know who this movie director Bob Altman is?”

“Robert Altman?”

“Older guy?”

“I know who Robert Altman is.”

“Oh. Well, I don’t think I’ve seen any of his movies, but he saw the show and liked me, and he said he was interested in me for this adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, except it would be about this girl who comes to the city to get away from her dysfunctional family and live her own life and she moves into this house with seven weird guys. Like seven dorks instead of seven dwarves?”

“Sounds cool.”

“Well, I told him I’d be glad to look at the script, but he said they were still working on it and trying to get funding.”

“Uh huh.”

“And then I asked him if it was a musical and he said that it hadn’t occurred to him to make it a musical, and why, did I sing? And I said, yeah, I sing, and I dance too, I mean maybe I’m not Deanna Durbin and Ginger Rogers combined, but, you know, so then he said that could be a really neat idea, and maybe he’d talk to some songwriters.”


“So, basically I told him to be sure to get back to me when he had a script ready. And the songs were written. If he decided to use songs.”

“Good move,” said Buddy.

She tossed what proved to be the final cotton ball fairly close to the wastebasket.

“Here’s my plan, tell me if you think it makes sense.”


She stuck her left palm under the dispenser of what looked like a quart bottle of skin cream, CVS brand. She pumped a good long winding stream of moisturizer into her palm and began to smear it onto her face. After a minute she said:

“What was I talking about?”

“Your plan?”

“Oh, my plan. Want to hear it?”

“Lay it on me.”

“Okay. I stay in New York and do theatre, the best parts I can get. ‘Cause now I’ve gotten my break. Buddy, did you see the notices I got for this part?”

“I read one in the --”

New York Times?”

“Yeah --”

“My God, Buddy, do you remember what he said?”

“Um --”

“He said I was a ‘scintillating new force to be reckoned with on the New York stage’. Me.”

“He was right.”

“My director thinks I’m going to get an Obie.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised.”

“Every day I wake up so happy -- usually, anyway. I don’t know -- this is what I love to do, y’know?” She turned to Buddy, opened her hands, looked up to the ceiling, and then back at him with those eyes. “The theatre.”


She turned back to her mirror.

“But -- if I can do a good movie now and then inbetween shows, or maybe even a TV guest part, I’ll do that. But only if the parts are good. So, that’s my plan. What do you think?”

“I think it’s a magnificent plan.”

“’Cause everybody else says I should move back to L.A. and concentrate on movie work. But I don’t want to.”

“Then don’t.”

“So I shouldn’t move back to L.A.”

“No, fuck that.”

“I love you, Buddy.”

“Well --”

“I mean, not that way, you know what I mean.”

“I know what you mean,” said Buddy. “So -- you staying in New York for Christmas?”

She had got all the moisturizer on, and now she was examining her face in the mirror, turning it side to side.

“Yeah. We’re dark tonight and tomorrow but we have a show the next day, so that’s my excuse.” She took something out of her hair, it fell down all around her shoulders, fucking hell. “But -- oh, guess who -- no, wait, what are you doing in town, Buddy?”

“Well,” said Buddy, “I had to come out to Philly anyway, to see my mom, and my sister’s family, and it turned out the only flight I could get went to Newark --” She was brushing out her hair, it was longer than it had been last spring, ah well -- “so, I thought, what the heck, I’d catch your show, then take the train down later.”

“Like, later today?”

“Yeah. I’m supposed to hang out with my mom and my sister and her mob tonight and tomorrow, then tomorrow night I’m flying with my mom back to L.A. so she can visit.”

“That’s nice. I just wish you had called sooner to let me know you’d be in town, Buddy-boo boyo.”

“Yeah, sorry about that, I was supposed to leave yesterday but something came up with work, I couldn’t get away till today, just barely got a flight, but, anyway, what do you say to a late lunch?”

“Sure,” she said. “I’d love to. I’ll just have to make a phone call.”

“Cancel a previous engagement?”

“Sort of.”

“Good. I’ve missed you.”

She looked at him a moment, then she dropped the hairbrush, picked up her cellphone, opened it up, and speed-dialed a number.

“Voice mail,” she said, glancing again at Buddy. Then she turned away and spoke quietly into the phone: “Hi, it’s me. Look, an old friend stopped by, and we’re gonna have a late lunch, so, look, I’ll call you later tonight. ‘Bye.”

She folded up the phone and laid it down.


“Absolutely not,” she said.

“Good,” said Buddy.

“So.” She picked up the box of Marlboros, scooted her chair around so she could face Buddy, and crossed her legs. “Fill me in.”

“On what?”

“Everything, stupid.”

(Oh, yes, continued here.)

(Kindly go to the right-hand column of this page for a listing of links to all other published chapters of Uncle Buddy’s House™; soon to be presented on the Broadway stage with John Barrymore and Madge Evans.)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 207: "Bunny"

The summer of 1957, a sweltering rainy night in Greenwich Village; dudes like Coltrane and Mingus and Davis wail that crazy bebop while cats like Kerouac and Ginsberg and Corso riff the beat jive in words; in between drug busts Lady Day still makes the club scene, often preceded by the comedy stylings of Lord Buckley or Lenny Bruce and sometimes even Professor Irwin Corey...

But our hero Arnold Schnabel cares not a whit for any of the above. He has his own problems, having been transformed by the prince of darkness into the second male lead of Ye Cannot Quench, by Gertrude Evans, author of many other out-of-print classics such as Rollerskate Carhop; My Husband the Communist; Up the Mighty Allegheny; and My Tears Will Dry Tomorrow.

Let’s rejoin Arnold (in his current incarnation as “Porter Walker, romantic poet”) and his young friend Betsy at the crowded smoky bar of the Kettle of Fish, on MacDougal Street...

(Click here to read our previous episode; go here to return to the first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning forty-two-volume memoir. ”Somehow to call it a masterpiece seems to sully it with a word which has become more meaningless each year. Simply call it ‘Arnold Schnabel’. Like Shakespeare, like Homer, like Dickens, the very name opens up to its own universe, a very rich universe indeed.” -- Harold Bloom, in Cosmopolitan.)

“Hey, buddy.”

The big guy sitting to my right nudged my arm.

“Yes?” I said.

He was in his early sixties I guess, more fat than big now that I got a look at him; he looked like a stevedore in his jeans and t-shirt and sweat-stained baseball cap.

“I hear the lady call you Porter?”

“Yes,” I said.

Great, I thought, now what has Porter done to this guy? Did I deflower his daughter? Carry on a liaison with his wife or maiden sister? Dance a ‘tea’-induced boogaloo in the aisle of his church during Sunday mass?

“Porter Walker is it?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, reluctantly.

He was a lot older than me and pretty fat, but you can never tell with these longshoreman guys, some of them just really like to fight. I hoped he wasn’t going to get violent. I tensed my shoulder muscles, involuntarily, and I lowered my chin, voluntarily, just in case he was going to try for a sudden Joe Louis-style lethal uppercut.

But instead of a fist he offered his open hand.

“Wilson is the name. Edmund Wilson.”

I shook his hand.

“Arnold Schnabel,” I said.

“What? You just said your name was Porter.”

“Porter Walker I mean,” I said, and moving on quickly, “and this is Betsy. Betsy, Mr. Wilson.”

He lifted his great bulk off of his barstool, doffed his cap, and bowed.

“Pleased to meet you, Betsy. Call me Bunny.”

“Hello, Bunny,” said Betsy.

He put his cap back on and heaved himself back onto his barstool. I noticed he was drinking a martini, which seemed like an odd drink for a stevedore. And I retrospectively realized that his hand had been soft and his grip gentle.

“I suppose that neither of you has heard of me,” he said. “Is that correct.”

“The name sounds familiar,” said Betsy.

“Perhaps it is my demotic attire which throws you off. Edmund Wilson? I write books, articles --”

“Oh, Edmund Wilson!” said Betsy. “I’ve heard of you.”

“How about you, Porter? Wilson? Edmund Wilson?”

“Uh --”

“Never mind. I realize that I am not dressed as befits one whose passport reads ‘littérateur’. But there is a reason for these plebeian togs.”

He paused. That was okay with me. Maybe the pause would stretch on forever. Meanwhile the bongo player was taking a solo, attacking his drums with undiminished intensity and eliciting scattered shouts of “Go!” and “Too much, baby”!

“Yes, there is a reason,” repeated Bunny.

The bongoist played faster and faster. It was like in a Tarzan or Jungle Jim movie, right before someone says that the natives are restless.

“I wonder if you can guess what the reason is,” said Bunny.

Betsy broke down finally and said, “Okay, Bunny, why the glad rags?”

“Why indeed, Betsy, am I dressed like a common workman? Porter?”


Suddenly Freddy’s accordion burst into the bongo player’s solo and a second later came a crashing chord from Magda’s piano and a booming series of notes from the bassist, accompanied by a wave of shouting and whistling from the audience.

“Well, what do you think, Porter?” said Bunny.

“About --”

“Why do you think I am dressed thus.”

This was as bad as being back in school. And I had never liked school.

“Go ahead, Porter,” he said.

“Because it’s comfortable?” I ventured.

“No,” he said. “I’ll tell you why, Porter, and Betsy too, if I may bend your lovely ear as well.”

“Bend away,” said Betsy.

“One of the problems with being what in olden times was called a lion of literature,” he said, “is that one loses touch with the common man. And the common woman. Not to imply that you are common, Betsy.”

“Thank you, Bunny,” she said.

“And so every once in a while I take the train in from my quiet place in the country, I book a room at the Prince George Hotel, and there I divest myself of my customary tweeds and change into this outfit, which normally I wear only whilst gardening or perhaps chopping wood in my yard. Then, eschewing the high-tone midtown joints I normally frequent during my visits to the city, I come down to the Village and haunt the bohemian bars and bistros of my youth, here where no one knows or cares anymore who Edmund Wilson is.”

“But I have heard of you,” said Betsy. “I think.”

“Ah, but have you read any of my books?”

“Um, no, but --”

Freddy had started singing a new song, an upbeat little number about sitting on a farm.

“What about you, Porter?” asked Bunny.

A parchment farm?

“Um --” I said, if one can be said to say “Um”.

“Ever read any of my books?”

Was parchment made on farms?

“Okay,’ said Bunny. “How about Memoirs of Hecate County?”

Memoirs,” I said, “Memoirs of --?

“Hecate. Hecate County.”

Memoirs of Hecate County,” I said. I’m not sure but I may even have stroked my chin. “Memoirs -- oh, wait, I think I saw the movie, with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor?”

“That was Raintree County. Based on an entirely different book.”

“Oh, sorry --”

“How about Axel’s Castle?”

“Uh, is that about knights, and jousts, and --”

“No. To the Finland Station?”

Finland Station. Is that a spy book? I think I might have read it if it had these spies --”


“They’re all after these plans of Hitler’s invasion of Russia --”


“And there’s this girl spy --”

“No. Not my book. Not my book at all.”

“Oh, well, I mostly just read mysteries really --”

“No matter,” he said. “Nobody under the age of fifty has read my books. But at one time believe it or not I was an up-and-comer. Like Porter here. But now no one cares. Still, I write my articles, my books, and, thank God some of my old friends are now powerful editors and publishers, so I make a modest living. But I am already approaching footnote status in the history of American literature.”

He glared at us, at Betsy and at me.

“But somebody must read your books,” I said, just before things could get really awkward. “I mean --”

“Oh, sure,” he said. “The academics. The pipe and bow tie boys. God love them. Although I don’t believe in God. But they’ve managed to keep bores like Hawthorne and Melville in print, so perhaps there’s hope for me still.”

He turned then, and stared at the space behind the bar.

Freddy had stopped singing and Ursula was wailing on her saxophone again.

I looked at Betsy. She shrugged. I was about to gently turn my body more toward her and away from Bunny when suddenly he spoke again.

“May I buy you two young people a libation.”

“Well, uh --”

“Bartender!” he yelled. “Three more martinis here, please.”

“Right away, Mr. Wilson.”

“Same way, but even drier and colder. Bury the cocktail glasses in shaven ice for a couple of minutes."

“Sure, Mr. Wilson.”

“Hey, I thought no one knew you here, Bunny,” said Betsy.

“Except for the bartenders, of course,” he said.

He picked up his martini, took a sip, looked around the bar.

“Gee the times I used to have in joints like this. Me and the boys, Ernie Hemingway, Scotty Fitzgerald, Big Bill Faulkner. He wasn’t really big but I called him that, Big Bill. Yeah, Scotty’s dead, Ernie and Big Bill might as well be, and pretty soon I’ll keel over from a bum liver or a coronary. But I’ll tell ya, I wouldn’t trade the memories! No, wouldn’t trade the memories.”

He clapped me on the shoulder.

“Heard you took old Smythe for a ten grand advance, kid.”

“Well, no, not exactly,” I said.

“Oh, sure!” he said. “I know. I know. Strictly on the QT, huh?” He tapped the side of his nose. “But I know, I hear things, at my club mostly. So tell me, Porter, why’d you introduce yourself as what was it, Arnold Schlmozzel?”

“Schnabel,” I said. “Arnold Schnabel.”

“Yeah, what was up with that?”

“I, uh --”

“Oh, I get it. That’s your ‘street’ name. That’s the name you give people when you don’t want them to know who you are.”

“Well --”

“No, that’s okay. You want to preserve your anonymity. I completely understand. I wish I had thought of that in my younger days, but oh, no, my ambition and vanity precluded even the possibility of such a noble ploy. I used to love to stroll into ‘22’ or the Stork Club and have Cary Grant call out, ‘Say, hey, Bunny baby,’ or Marlene Dietrich yell, ‘Hey, Bunny, who ya bangin’ lately?’ Oh, sorry, Betsy.”

“That’s all right, Bunny,” said Betsy. “So you were quite the popular fella back in the old days.”

“I was, I was. And you know I always loved books and good conversation and all that sort of thing, philosophy, history and whatnot, but what I really liked was the ladies. And they liked me. Yes, the name of Edmund ‘Bunny’ Wilson meant something in those days. And let’s just say a mighty pen wasn’t the only thing I was famous for wielding.” He lifted his glass and polished off his martini. “I hate it when I go off on some rant and let my martini get warm. Oh, no, look who’s coming --”

“Bunny,” said Nicky, showing up out of nowhere again and patting Bunny’s shoulder. “Slumming, old man?”

“No more than you, Nicky. Just chatting with your new wunderkind, Porter here. And his lady friend Betsy.”

“Oh,” I said, “Betsy’s not my --”

“Ha ha,” said Nicky.

“What,” said Bunny.

“Oh, nothing.”

“Oh, okay,” said Bunny.

Nicky still had his hand on Bunny’s shoulder.

“Hey, Nicky,” he said. “Are you arresting me? Taking me downtown?”

“Uh, no --”

“You need my help to stand up? You about to keel over in a fainting fit?”

“Pardon me?”

“Off the cloth, moth.”

“Oh, sorry,” said Nicky, and he took his hand away from Bunny’s shoulder. “So, Bunny, what do you think of Cheever’s new --”

“Hey, look, Nicky,” said Bunny, “the kids and I are trying to have a little chinwag here. Know what I mean?”

“That’s great, Bunny, I think you’ll find that Porter is --”

“Christ almighty.”


“Grab some change off the bar there and buy yourself a hint, Clint.”


“Take a hike, Spike.”

“Oh, sorry, I’ll just --”

“Later, gator,” said Bunny, and Nicky drifted away.

“That fuckin’ guy,” said Bunny. “Oh, sorry, Betsy, I allowed myself to be overcome momentarily by my proletarian costume.”

“That’s o-fucking-kay, Bunny,” said Betsy.

“Ah, a girl with spirit, with fire!”

“What are you, a pirate?” she asked.

Touché! Ah, our libations have arrived.”

The bartender laid three martinis down in front of us.

“As dry as the burning sands of the Kalahari?” Bunny asked the bartender.

“I only muttered the word vermouth,” said the bartender, “under my breath and looking away.”

“Excellent,” said Bunny, “and yet as icy cold as the black vast wastes of interstellar space?”

“Uh, yeah, that too,” said the bartender. “That’ll be three bucks, Mr. Wilson.”

“Take it from my pile there,” said Bunny. “Raise your glasses my young friends.”

We did as we were told.

Once again Bunny looked out over the crowded bar. Then he looked back to us.

“To youth,” he said.

We drank. Bunny settled down in his seat, but he continued to sit facing us, his right arm on the bar.

“I want to read this epic poem of yours, Porter.”

“Well, I’ll uh, ask Nicky to send you a copy when it’s published.”

“Fuck that noise. I want to read it now, in manuscript, I want to read this voice of his generation.”

“It’s really not very good,” I said.


“Well, that’s only my opinion.”

“Smythe & Son don’t seem to agree with you.”

“Well, maybe they’re right.”

“Let me read it.”

“I’m not sure I even have a copy,” I said.

“Why are you playing so hard to get.”

“I’m not, really. There’s a girl in here named Emily who has a copy in her briefcase I think.”

“And why does she have your poem in her briefcase?”

“She’s my editor.”

“And she’s in here boozing it up carrying your poem around? What if she loses it?”

“Maybe there’s another copy?” I said.

“You don’t even know? Christ, man, I’ll never forget the time Hadley lost all of Ernie’s early stories in the train station.”

“Was this that Finland Station?” I said, trying to show I had been paying at least some attention.

“No, it wasn’t the Finland Station. I think it was the goddam Gare de Lyon in Paris. Anyway, you coulda heard Ernie bawling all the way across the Atlantic. Always make copies, man. A ream of carbon paper is not gonna bust you.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Don’t take this abstracted artist thing too far.”


“You’re not always gonna be young and good-looking.”

“You’re right.”

“This is your time. Don’t fuck it up.”

“I’ll try not to.”

“You look sad. Are you sad?”

Most of all I was tired of having to talk to him, but now that he mentioned it I did feel somewhat sad, because I could see Nicky standing all by himself about a dozen feet away, not standing at the bar but several feet away from it. He didn’t have a drink, but he was smoking and seemingly staring at nothing. He looked very worried, even depressed. Had I been wrong about him? Maybe he wasn’t the Devil, Lucky, whatever his name was. Maybe he just happened to look like Lucky, and he was just a guy trying to do his job, which included catering to people like Bunny, and, yes, like myself.

I turned to Betsy.

“Listen, Betsy, will you excuse me just for a minute.”

“A minute like the last time?”

“No, a real minute.”


I turned back to Bunny.

“Bunny,” I said, “would you excuse me, for just a moment?”

“Sure, Porter. Betsy and I will have a une petite tête-à-tête. She might not enjoy it but I know I will.”

“I’ll really just be a minute,” I said to him. To Betsy I said, “Be right back.”

“Hurry,” she said.

“I will.”

I walked over to Nicky.

“Hi. Nicky?”

“Oh, Porter. Fancy meeting you here. Heh heh.”

“Yeah, listen, Nicky. I’ve thought it over, and you can arrange interviews and photography sessions and TV shows if you like. For me.”

As they say in my thriller novels, his entire demeanor changed.

“Oh my God. Porter. Really?”


He put out his hand, and, yes, I gave him mine. I have to say he shook it just a little bit longer than I would have preferred, with that eerily warm and powerful grip of his. Finally he took his hand away. He was beaming. My hand was tingling.

“May I ask what changed your mind, old boy?”

“Oh, I don’t know --”

“Something did. Please tell me.”

“Well, I was talking to Bunny over there --”

“Great guy, Bunny.”

“Yeah, and I saw you standing over here, and -- um --”


“You looked so, so sad. So crushed. Sort of.”

“I did?”




“All I was thinking was should I try to catch the late train home or just have a couple more drinks and sack out at my club tonight.”


“Why should I be sad?”

“Oh, no reason.”

“Heh heh. So we’re okay on the interviews and photo shoots and TV spots.”

“Yeah, sure,” I said.

“Well, great then, better get back to Betsy before Bunny tries to steal her off you.”

“Right,” I said. “See ya.”

“We’ll talk. Ciao.”

We shook hands, again for just a little too long, and then I headed back towards Betsy and Bunny. I saw Julian and Emily sitting together at the bar, about six places down from where Bunny sat. Emily was speaking to Julian, and he was staring down at the bar top, nodding his head. I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry for Emily too, but after the way I had just been fooled with Nicky I decided right then and there to stay out of it and mind my own business before I made even more trouble for myself.

(Continued here, because a legion of fans demand it.)

(Kindly look to the right hand side of this page for a quite often up-to-date listing of links to all other legally accessible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©; sponsored in part by Brylcreem™: ”Are you a prematurely balding guy who shaves his head? Just rub Brylcreem into your scalp for that ‘healthy’ glow.”)