Saturday, November 27, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 226: waiting

Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel, after myriad adventures in the fictional universe of the regrettably long-out-of-print novel Ye Cannot Quench (by Gertrude Evans, popular author of Diary of a Morgue Attendant; The Fisherman’s Wife’s Cousin; Cast a Very Wide Net; and The Return of Jane Eyre), now finds himself alone on this warm rainy night in 1957, in an areaway off Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street, alone but for his friend a talking fly...

(Click here to read our previous episode; go here if you must to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 49-volume memoir. “With the holiday season approaching, now might just be the perfect time to pre-order my Planet Schnabelia: A Reader’s Guide to Arnold Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Home Shopping Network.)

I turned my jacket collar up and started to head up the steps to the sidewalk.

“Yo, pal.”

I turned. The fly was hovering in the dry air beneath the awning.

“C’mon,” he said, “you know I don’t like to fly around in the rain.”

“Oh, sorry,” I said.

“I mean to you they might just be tiny raindrops, but to me each one is like getting dumped on with a barrelful of cold water, for Chist’s sake.”

“Do you want me to carry you in my hand again?”

“You are gonna grab a cab, right?”

“Yeah, sure, I guess.”

“I mean now is not the time to be cheap and walk home in the rain, maybe catch your death.”

“Yes, you’re right.”

“Okay, open your hand up.” I held my open left hand out into the space under the awning and the fly landed in my palm. “Okay, close ‘er up, but gently! gently now!”

I closed up my hand, turned and went up the steps to the sidewalk. The rain came down. I should have taken Emily the waitress’s offer of an umbrella, but it was too late now. There were no cabs in sight, no moving cars at all. I walked down towards Bleecker a couple of doors and got in under the awning of a closed tattoo parlour.

I felt a buzzing in my hand and I brought it up next to my ear.

“What’s goin’ on, no cabs?”

“No, I’m standing under another awning.”

“Okay, let me out, then.”

I did as he asked, and he buzzed merrily around my head. Well, maybe not merrily.

“They’re never around when ya want ‘em,” he said. “’Specially in the rain. So, what’s the plan, anyway, pal?”

“Well, first I’m going to go back to my apartment, then I’m going to try to write myself out of this world I’m in and back to my own world.”

“Okay. Whatever.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Whatever.”

“Yeah, but what do you mean by whatever?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.”

“You don’t think it’s a good plan?”

“Good in what sense?”

“Good in the sense that, uh, it’ll get me back to my own world.”

“Oh. In that sense.”


“Well, in the sense of is it a reasonable plan, uh, yeah, sure, sure it's reasonable. Provided it works.”

“You don’t think it’ll work?”

“Hey, who am I to say, I’m just a fly, but let me say only this, if I were able to write myself out of being a fly, don’t you think I would have tried it?”

I thought about this for a second.

“But how would you write it?” I asked.

“I beg your pardon?”

“How would you write yourself out of being a fly. You’re too small to hold a pen, or a pencil.”

“Oh. You got a point; a very valid point. Sometimes I forget. I don’t have opposable thumbs. Or fingers, for that matter. So, yeah, your point is well taken I suppose. So, you know, be my guest, write away.”

“But you don’t think it will work.”

“I did not say that.”

“My friend Josh seemed to think it would work.”

“And perhaps if your friend Josh said you should jump off the Brooklyn Bridge then that would work.”

“Look, it’s worth a try,” I said.

“Oh, yeah, sure, worth a try, but look, you want to pick up some beer first?”

Just then I saw Nicky Boskins coming up the steps from the Valhalla bar.

“Yo, pal --” said the fly.



I held up my hand.

“Just like a quart, y’know?” said the fly.

I ducked into the entrance area of the tattoo parlor.

“What the fuck’s the matter with you?” said the fly.

“Quiet,” I whispered. “It’s this guy Nicky, my PR man.”

“So what?”

“I don’t know.”

“What don’t you know?”

“I’m afraid he might be the Devil,” I whispered.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” said the fly.

“Look,” I whispered, “fly out a little ways and see what he’s doing?”


“Just do it, okay?”

“Awright, awright. Sheesh.”

He flew out beyond the edge of the entrance way and hovered.

“It looks like he’s waiting for a cab,” he said.


“And sure enough, here comes one.”

“Is it empty?”

“Yeah, it’s stopping. Come on, we’ll ask him to drop us off.”


“No? It’s raining, pal, come on!”

He buzzed up and down.

“No,” I whispered, firmly.

“But who knows when the next one will come along?”

“Is he getting in the cab?”

“Of course he’s getting in.”

I turned around, away from the street, trying to look inconspicuous, or as inconspicuous as anyone can look staring into the glass-paned door of a closed and unlighted tattoo parlor.

“Tell me when he’s passed,” I whispered.

“Christ,” said the fly.

I heard a car going by, making a shooshing sound on the wet street.

“He’s gone,” said the fly. “You can come out of hiding now.”

I turned around, took a step forward. I saw a Yellow Cab making the left turn on Bleecker Street in the rain.

“You happy now?” said the fly.

“I just don’t want to take any chances,” I said. “And why did he leave right after we left?”

“Gee, I don’t know. Maybe because it’s late and he has to work in the morning?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Maybe.”

The street was empty now. No cars, no pedestrians.

“Okay,” said the fly, “so look, what do you say we go across to the San Remo for one or two, just till the rain lets up.”

“No, I want to get home and write this thing.”

“Oh, right. Your little plan. Okay, so we pick up a couple quarts to go.”

“Look, I’m really not planning on sticking around long enough to drink a couple of quarts of beer.”

“Okay, one quart. We can drink it while you’re writing.”

“You just passed out from licking the whiskey off a cocktail cherry, and now you want beer?”

“Flies have a very rapid metabolsm, so, yeah, I could go for a drop of beer or two, I mean, you know, if it’s okay with you, I mean.”

“Okay, if we see an open store or a bar I’ll pick up a quart.”

“There’s like six bars just on this block.”

“I don’t want to go into any of these bars.”

“Oh. Afraid of who you’ll run into, huh?”

“Yes, I am, actually.”

“I know that feeling, pal. This is the problem with bars, ya know what I mean? They let anybody in. But whatta ya gonna do? Spend your whole life holed up in your pad?”


An old green De Soto came down the street, I think it was one of those De Luxe Business Coupés, a 1948 or so, its grillwork made it look like a grimacing beast. It drove on by.

“Hey, ya gotta get out sometimes,” said the fly.

“That’s true,” I said.

“You take your chances.”

“That’s true also.”

“But you just can’t hide in your room, like a monk. Like a goddam hermit. Right?”

“No, I guess not.”

“That way madness lies.”


“No possibly about it. So, ya wanta stop somewheres for a nightcap? I mean somewheres in your neighborhood maybe? I like them Bowery bars, not so pretentious --”



“No. Sorry.”

“Okay, just askin’. But we can still pick up a quart or two, right?”

“Yeah, we’ll pick up a quart,” I said, just to shut him up, but also because -- I realized just as I was saying it -- what if I failed? What if Josh had been wrong? What if I remained trapped in this universe? Then I would need a quart, and probably more than a quart.

We stood there silently. The fly came to rest on my shoulder. The rain continued to fall.

A couple of cars passed by. Then, after a minute, a meat truck. Then a little bit later a cop car. But no cabs.

“I can’t believe it,” said the fly. “We really should’ve just asked your buddy there if we coulda shared his cab.”

“He’s not my buddy.”

“You said he’s your PR man.”

“Look, let it go, okay?”

“Sure, fine.”

We waited. The street was empty now. Absolutely empty. Except for the rain, and for us.

“Unbelievable,” said the fly. “If I hadda known it was gonna take this fuckin’ long to find a cab I would’ve never let you talk us out of sharing your buddy’s cab. Never.”

I said nothing. I stepped out a bit from the awning to look up the street, as if this would somehow make a cab appear.

“Why’s it taking so long?” asked the fly. “I mean I know it’s raining, but. This is supposed to be Manhattan we’re in, not goddam Ohio or someplace, fucking North Dakota.”

I stepped back under the awning. The fly flew right up into my face.

“Why?” he asked.

“It’s a Tuesday night,” I said. “At least I think it’s a Tuesday. And it’s late.”

“Yeah, and raining,” he said. “But still.”

We waited.

“Oh, wait, I see one,” I said.

The fly buzzed forward to take a look.

“Nah, he’s occupied,” said the fly.

We waited. A few more cars came by, another pause, then a big Mack truck. All of a sudden two cabs came down the street, one after the other. Both occupied.

“Unbelievable,” said the fly.

Another minute, then another car. Then another occupied cab. Then a garbage truck.

The rain had lessened by now. It was still coming down, but it was much lighter, almost misty.

I was on the verge of asking the fly if he minded if I walked home. He could travel in my ear, or in my pocket if he preferred.

A white Lincoln Continental came down the street, I think it was the 1956 Mark II.

“Look at these rich bastards,” said the fly. “Slumming. Guys like that, you know what I do? I leave droppings in their caviar, that’s what I do. They should get sick and die. Rich bastards. Go back to Park Avenue, ya bums!”

The car stopped, a little bit ahead of us, then it backed up so that it was nearly in front of us.

“Oh, come on,” said the fly. “What’ve they got, Superman hearing? Okay, look, if there’s any trouble we hightail it back to that last bar, okay?”

“Quiet,” I whispered.

A young blond-haired guy who looked a little like Vic Morrow was looking out of the front passenger window. He turned and it looked like he said something to the driver. Then he turned back again and rolled down the window. I could hear loud jazz music from inside the car. The driver leaned over, looking out the window, at me. I couldn’t see his face clearly, but I saw the glow of a cigarette in his mouth. He backed up the car another foot or so and I saw his face in the light of a streetlamp. He reminded me of James Dean, and for a second I wondered if it was James Dean. But then I remembered that James Dean was dead in 1957. Not that his death necessarily precluded his presence in this universe. The driver pressed a button, the jazz music stopped, he took the cigarette out of his mouth.

“Hey,” he yelled. “Mrs. Morgenstern’s neighbor!”

“Yes?” I said.

“It’s me, Mickey, her nephew.”

A guy who looked like the actor Timothy Carey had partially rolled down the near rear window.

“It’s us, the Windbreakers, daddy-o. Remember, we was gonna roll you earlier today.”

“Oh, right,” I said. “Hi, guys.”

“What’re ya doin’ standin’ there,” yelled Mickey.

“Waiting for a cab.”

“You goin’ home?”

“Trying to.”

“Get in, we’ll give ya a lift.”

The fly was in my ear again now and he whispered, “Go ahead, pal, let’s get this show on the road.”

I went out across the sidewalk in the misty rain.

“Herschel,” said Mickey, “get in back.”

“I called shotgun,” said Herschel.

“Get in back.”

“Awright, awright awready.”

The blond-haired guy opened the door, the interior light came on, he got out. The Timothy Carey guy in back moved over to make room, and I could see the little Richard Jaeckel guy next to him on the other side. Herschel climbed in the back. All four of the guys were wearing different-colored windbreakers now over their t-shirts.

“Come on,” said Mickey. He was wearing a red windbreaker. “You’re gettin’ the new upholstery all wet.”

I went over and got in, closed the door, the inside light went off.

“Nice car,” whispered the fly in my ear.

I had never ridden in a fancy car like this before. Despite the fact that all four of the young fellows had lit cigarettes going the car smelled of clean new leather.

“Roll the window back up, willya?” said Mickey. “You too, Herschel.”

I looked for the window handle, running my fingers along the smooth pale leather-covered interior of the door.

“It’s power,” said Mickey. “Just press that button there.”

I found the button, put my finger on it, the window-pane rose silently.

“So whaddaya think?” said Mickey.


“Yeah. About the wheels.”

“Oh,” I said.

I touched the ivory-smooth leather of the dashboard. It felt warm to the touch, like a living thing. The windshield wipers stroked silently and efficiently. The lights on the dashboard glowed.

“So?” said Mickey.

“Nice car,” I said.

“Ha,” said Mickey.

The other three young guys all said ha too.

“Nice car I got, huh?” said Mickey.

I’ve noticed many times in my life that when you’re talking to guys about their cars that it’s usually necessary to say things two or three times at least, and with increasing emphasis.

“Really nice,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Mickey. He had his cigarette back between his lips now. “Real nice.”

He poked a button on the dashboard and the loud jazz music came back on.

“It’s a nice car all right,” he said. He put the car in gear. “But it ain’t my car.”

He put his foot on the gas and pulled out. The three guys in back all whooped and hollered.

The light up ahead was red, but Mickey ignored it and turned left on Bleecker.

(Continued here, indefatigably.)

(Please look to the right hand side of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other legally-available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Be sure to take the kids to see Santa and his Merry Elves at “The Arnold Schnabel Enchanted Holiday Village” at Lit Brothers Department Store, 7th and Market Streets, Philadelphia PA; no appointment necessary.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 225: alone?

The Prince of Darkness has transformed our memoirist Arnold Schnabel into “Porter Walker, a broodingly handsome young poet” in Ye Cannot Quench (Knopf, 1960), the sophomore novel of Gertrude Evans (the celebrated author of many other fine novels, including Ride a Dead Horse; The Café of Lost Souls; That Bus Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore; A Girl Called Aspidistra; and The House Next Door But One).

Let’s rejoin our hero on a rainy summer’s night in Greenwich Village, in the year 1957...

(Go here to read our previous chapter; if you have way too much time on your hands you may click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume memoir. “Now that winter is approaching I look forward to taking to my bed for three or four months, with my pipe, my laudanum, my chamomile tea, and my volumes of Arnold Schnabel.” -- Harold Bloom, in Women’s Wear Daily.)

“Emily,” she repeated. She turned her head to look at me. “You know two Emilys. I find that well-nigh incredible.”

“Even I,” said the other Emily, “who have been accused of a self-absorption bordering upon solipsism, do not find it unbelievable that Mr. Walker should know two persons of the same appellation.”

Emily let go of my arms and turned to face Emily the waitress.

“Are you accusing me of being solipsistic?”

“I make no accusations. I merely make observations and let the hearer draw what conclusions he – or in your case, she – may.”

“What? Hey.” Emily was back to talking with an American accent now. “You got a lot of nerve, lady.”

“Undoubtedly,” said the other Emily. “Indeed I have been characterized as a bundle of nerves.”

“You know I didn’t mean that kind of nerve.”

Julian had come down the steps of the areaway, and he joined us in that small dry space under the awning.

“Emily,” he said, “stop picking fights.”

“But this – this female – insulted me.”

Holding Emily’s briefcase under one arm, Julian closed up his umbrella and gave it a little shake, being careful not to sprinkle himself or any of us with rainwater.

“I believe you are inebriated,” said Emily the waitress to the other Emily. “And so I shall not bandy words with you.”

“Inebriated?” said Emily. “I’ve had maybe three drinks, tops.”

“Ha,” said Julian.

“Okay, four drinks,” she said.

Still with Emily’s briefcase under his arm Julian was struggling awkwardly with the fastening-button of his umbrella.

“Do you want me to help you with that, sir?” said Emily the waitress.

“Thanks, I just seem to be all thumbs,” said Julian.

“You do have quite massive hands and fingers,” said Emily the waitress.

She stuck her sheath of poems back into her apron, took the umbrella from Julian, and in a second had it neatly buttoned up.

“There,” she said, handing it back to Julian.

“I could have done that,” said the other Emily.

“Well, thanks, anyway, Emily,” said Julian to Emily the waitress.

“I fear you have me at a disadvantage, sir,” she said.

“Oh, sorry,” I said. “Emily, this is Mr. Smythe.”

“Mr. Smythe?” she said.

“Julian Smythe,” said Julian, offering his large hand. (Well, come to think of it, large was the only kind of hand he had to offer.) “Call me Julian.”

Emily the waitress put her thin hand (the only kind she had) into Julian’s.

“Julian Smythe,” she said. “Not Julian Smythe of Smythe & Son.”

“That’s me.”

“Oh. Charmed I’m sure.”

Emily the heroine turned to me and mouthed the words “Charmed, I’m sure”.

“So,” said Julian, “Emily, do you work here?”

“I don’t wear this apron for laughs,” she said.

“Ha ha. Funny-looking place. I must’ve walked down this block a thousand times and I never really noticed it.”

“I hear that a lot,” said Emily the waitress.

Julian smiled and turned to me.

“You weren’t just leaving, were you Porter?”

“No,” I said. “In fact I’ve ordered a bacon-cheeseburger, and fries.”

“Food!” cried Julian. “I knew there was something missing from this evening! How’s the cuisine here, Emily?”

“We receive few complaints, save from chronic complainers,” she said.

“Well, the hell with them!” said Julian. “You here by yourself, Porter?”

“No, I’m with some friends,” I said.

“Then what’re you doing standing around out here?” Suddenly Julian glanced at Emily the waitress, and he assumed a look of embarrassment. “Not that it’s any of my, uh –”

Emily the heroine had been silent for quite a long time for her, her gaze moving like a cat’s from one to the other of us, but now she piped up.

“What do you think he’s doing out here, Julian? You know how fond he is of the ladies.”

“What?” said Emily the waitress.

“I hope you harbor no illusions concerning the exclusivity of Porter’s alleged affections,” said the other Emily.

“I harbor no illusions about him at all,” said Emily the waitress. “I was merely showing him my verses.”

“Oh, give me a break.”

“What do you call these?” said Emily the waitress, pulling her little sheath of poems back out of her apron.

“I call them nothing.”

“All right,” said Julian. “Ladies. Let’s be nice.” He turned to Emily the waitress. “I’m sure your poems are very good, Emily.”

“How nice of you to say, Mr. Smythe, knowing as you do nothing of them. I wonder though if you would care to nullify this ignorance.”

“Pardon me?”

“Would you be so kind as to peruse my poems?”


“You are a publisher, are you not?”

“Ha,” said the other Emily.

Julian shot a displeased look at that Emily, then turned back to the poetic Emily.

“Yes,” he said. “I am a publisher, and I’d be happy to look at your poems.”

“You don’t even like to read poems,” said the other Emily.

“Here, give them to me,” said Julian, holding out his hand. “I promise I’ll, uh –”

“He’ll get someone else to read them,” said Emily. “Probably me.”

“Oh,” said Emily the waitress, handing the poems to Julian, but looking at the other Emily. “Are you Mr. Smythe’s secretary?”

“I,” said Emily, “am an editor!”

“Well,” said Julian, stashing the poems in his inside jacket pocket, “you’re Porter’s editor.”

“Why are you so mean to me?” She started to cry. “Why does everyone hate me?”

“I’m sure everyone doesn’t hate you, miss,” said Emily the waitress.

“Only people who haven’t met me,” sobbed Emily.

“Okay,” said Julian, “I think what we need to do is get some chow in you, Emily. And in me.”

She wiped her eyes with her finger.

“Do you think that’s all I need?”

“Well, I couldn’t say it’s all you need, but a bite of food sure wouldn’t hurt.”

The flesh below her eyes was now darkened with mascara, as were her eyelids.

“Yes,” she said, opening her purse and taking out a lacy handkerchief. “It wouldn’t hurt.” She dabbed her eyes, wiping off some but not all of the mascara, then dumped the handkerchief back into her pocketbook and clicked it shut.

“Good, let’s go in,” said Julian.

He still had the briefcase under one arm and his umbrella in his other hand. I opened the door for him. Rock-and-roll music and the shouts of drunken writers spilled out into the areaway and off into the rainy night.

“Thanks, Porter,” said Julian. “After you, Emily.”

Holding her head high, Emily went in.

Julian looked at me.

“Listen, Julian,” I said, “you go ahead. I’ll just be –”

I left the sentence unfinished.

He glanced at Emily, then back at me.

“Sure, buddy. See you inside.”

He went in, I let the door close behind him, the jukebox music and the bar noise trailed inside after him.

Once again it was just me and Emily the waitress, standing out there in the areaway, lit by the red glow of the Rheingold beer sign, the rain pattering on and dripping off of the awning above us.

“You probably think me terribly opportunistic,” said Emily, “giving my poems to your publisher friend.”

“No, not at all,” I said. “In fact even though I haven’t read them I would bet anything that they’re a lot better than my own epic poem here.” I hefted up the unwieldy mass of papers. “Hey, listen, Emily,” I said. “Speaking of this epic poem of mine, I wonder could you take it back in and give it to Mr. Smythe for safekeeping.”

“Why can’t you do that?”

“Because I’ve suddenly decided that I’m not going back in.”

“But why?”

“Because I feel that if I do go back in there that I may lose my mind. Or my soul. Or both.”

“I see,” she said. And she said it as if she actually understood what I was saying. ”But what about your bacon-and-cheeseburger. Your fries.”

“Give them to someone else.”

“Mr. Whitman is very fond of bacon-cheeseburgers.”

“Give it to him.”

“And Mr. Poe is simply mad for our french fries.”

“Give them to him, with my compliments.”

“I hate to mention this, Mr. Walker, but – your bill?”

“My friend Josh will cover it. He’s loaded.”

“He does exude an air of wealth and privilege. And what should I tell him and your other friends?”

“Just tell them I decided to go home.”

“The whim of a moody poet?”

“Sure. But listen, if you don’t mind, tell Josh, tell him –”


“Just tell him that I – that I hope to see him tomorrow. Or very soon, anyway.”

“You hope to see him tomorrow. Or very soon.”


“I will,” she said.

“Okay then,” I said. “Here you go.”

I handed her the epic poem.

“It’s very heavy, isn’t it?” she said.


“And you’re going out in this rain, without an umbrella.”

“I don’t mind.”

“I could duck in and get you one. People are always leaving umbrellas here.”

“Don’t bother. I’ll catch a cab.”

“You have cab fare I hope.”

“I do.”

“Because I could lend you some money if you’re short.”

“No, really, I have plenty for a cab.”

“Well, all right. They usually pass on this street quite frequently.”

For a moment neither of us said anything. The rain fell.

“Good night,” I said.

“Good night, Mr. Walker. Perhaps you will return some other night.”

“That’s not completely inconceivable,” I said.

I opened the door for her. Again the rock-and-roll music and the shouting and laughter emerged from inside, as if someone had turned on a switch. She started to go in, carrying the poem, then she stopped and looked at me.

“You’re not like the other writers,” she said. She paused. “This is a good thing. Goodbye, Mr. Walker.”

“Goodbye, Emily,” I said.

She went in, the door closed behind her, the music and the shouting and laughter slipped inside with her.

And now, standing there alone, already I began to second-guess. And to regret. And to miss. I would miss Carlotta, and Pat, I would even miss Sam, and Emily the waitress, I would miss Julian, and in a way I was even beginning to miss the other Emily.

I was alone again. Alone in the night, in the rain.

But then again, not quite alone.

I heard that familiar buzzing and then I heard the voice of the fly.

“So, pal, you gonna stand here all night?”

I turned, so that I was facing the street, and there he was hovering in front of my face.

“No,” I said. “I’m going home. Or at least I’m going to attempt to go home.”

“Can I come with you?”

“Well –”

“Ah, come on, pal. You’re the only pal I got in this cockamamie universe. Don’t leave me hangin’ here. All alone.”

I felt sorry for him, even if he was just a fly. And the thing was, I didn’t really want to be alone either.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.”

“Now you’re talkin’, pal.”

(Doggedly continued here.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find what might possibly be a current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Made possible in part by the sponsorship of Sears & Roebuck: “Come see our stylish ‘Arnold Schnabel’ line of affordable men’s bohemian clothing. Special discounts for matching beret-sweater-and-scarf ensembles.”)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 224: two Emilys

The Prince of Darkness has taken his revenge on our hero Arnold Schnabel by transforming him into “Porter Walker”, a preposterous but devilishly handsome young poet in Ye Cannot Quench, a once almost-popular novel of 1950s New York City by Gertrude Evans (author of many other fine novels, for instance, Lay Deep the Main Pipe, Plumbers!; I’m Sorry I Dragged You Into This; The Girlfriend of Bartleby the Scrivener; and I Promised You Nothing).

Let’s rejoin Arnold/Porter then, on a sultry wet night in the summer of 1957, in the back room of a slightly sinister bistro known as Valhalla…

(Click here to read our previous episode; go here if you must to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 47-volume memoir. “Not to damn it with faint praise, but Schnabel’s massive opus is, in my perhaps not quite humble opinion, the finest literary achievement of our time.” -- Harold Bloom (on The Maury Povich Show).

I had just reached the opening to the hallway, and I could see Emily walking ahead down there, not looking back, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.

“Hey, Porter!”

I turned. It was Sam Clemens, he was all out of breath, sweating from dancing, his hair even more disordered than it had been before.

“Where you going,” he said, and then he panted heavily three or four times. I wondered what would happen if he had a coronary. Was there another afterlife he would be consigned to after this one? “You’re not leaving already, are you, Porter? We haven’t even eaten yet.”

“I’ll be right back,” I said.

“What, you have to use the head again already?”


(Why didn’t I just say yes? Probably because in the back of my mind I knew he would stand there and watch to make sure I went into the men’s room; perhaps he would even go in there with me, and then I would be forced to try to urinate when I didn't really have to, and to talk to the doomed boring writers again -- yes, all this flashed by in the back of my fine mind in the space of a half-second.)

“Where you going then?” Sam asked.

“Just outside for a minute.”

“What? Why?”

“Uh, for a breath of fresh air?”

“Fresh air? What are you, a health nut? Oh. Oh, I get it.”

He was cocking his head to one side, looking past me down the hall.

I half-turned my body, half-turned my head, and there at the other end of the hall stood Emily the waitress, staring at me, her fists balled again.

I turned back to Sam.

“I get it,” he said again. “I was young once too, believe it or not.”

I should have mentioned that he was practically shouting all this, as the band was still playing very loudly, a jig or a reel or perhaps a fandango of some sort, and Walt was playing along with his jew’s harp again.

“Steaming up and down the mighty Mississippi,” said Sam, “dead reckoning through fogs and thunderstorms and pitch-black night, doing a man’s job -- let me tell ya, when we pulled in to a hot town like Osceola or Cape Girardeau --”

“Well, look, Sam,” I said, “I’ll really be right back.”

“Not that it’s any of my business,” he said.

Who was I to disagree with him? I started to turn but he grabbed my arm.

“Hey, Porter, you’re not gonna leave your manuscript on the table, are you?”

“Well, as I said,” I said, peeling his hand off my arm, “I’ll be right back.”

“Porter, look around you. Nothing but writers in this joint. Look at Bradstreet over there.” He pointed to the table we had been sitting at. The Mistress Bradstreet woman was twisted around in her chair and leaning over to our table with her hand on my poem -- well, Porter’s poem -- and apparently reading it. “Don’t be surprised if some of your lines turn up verbatim in her next poem, pal.”

“She can have them,” I said.

“Ah, don’t be like that, Porter. Look, you leave that poem there for even one minute I’ll lay you eight to five it’s not even there when you come back. And then where are you. Back driving a truck.”

“Cab actually.”

“Cab, truck, whatever.”

“Okay, uh, tell ya what,” I said, “will you keep an eye on it for me, Sam?”

“Oh no, I don’t want that responsibility --” he held out both his hands, palms outward, fingers pointed up, “no, sir, not me, buddy, uh-uh, I’ll never forget Ivan Turgenev asked me to watch his damn epic novel once in this café in Paris, and --”

“All right,” I said, “all right. I’ll get it.” And I went past him, heading back to the table. Sam quickly caught up with me, skipping once or twice to keep pace.

“Hey, don’t get huffy, Porter. I’m only looking out for you.”

“Sure,” I said.

Out of the corner of her eye Mistress Bradstreet saw me coming from about ten feet away, and at once turned around and settled back in her chair, ostentatiously joining in with the conversation of her friends. I went over, picked the typescript up, stood it up lengthwise on the tabletop and tapped it down a couple of times, straightening the pages somewhat. To tell the truth this unruly mass of paper was beginning to look worse for the wear, the pages stained and bloated with beer and whiskey and smeared with tobacco ashes.

Carlotta rushed over all perspiring and out of breath and grabbed Sam’s arm.

“Come on, Sam! They’re gonna play a square dance next!”

“Sure thing, little lady!”

“Where you going, Porter?” she yelled at me.

“He’s just going outside for a breath of air,” said Sam, as if he were deliberately trying to sound as mendacious as possible.

“Don’t cover for him, I’ll bet he’s going out to meet that scary waitress. Good luck with that, Porter! Come on, Sam, let’s kick it around some more!”

She pulled him back onto the dance floor. I put my manuscript under my arm and headed back again for the hallway. This whole business of being talked into going back for my epic felt like some awkwardly contrived plot development, but I couldn’t see any way out of it at the moment.

Emily the waitress was still waiting at the other end of the hall. When she saw that I was really coming she turned and disappeared into the front room. I followed.

The front bar had gotten busier, and louder, the jukebox blaring rock-and-roll. Emily now stood near the entrance door, staring at me across the room through its shifting clouds of smoke. She turned, opened the door and went out. I followed.

When I opened the door to go out I almost bumped into Emily, who stood there facing the entrance.

“Oh, sorry,” I said.

It had started to rain again, but an awning from a shop above kept most of the areaway dry. The electric Rheingold sign reddened Emily’s formerly pallid face.

The door closed by itself behind me, and the noise and the music of the bar all but faded away.

“Thank you for coming out here, Mr. Walker,” she said. She stood very close to me. But then the space kept dry by the awning was not a large one. “I won’t detain you long. I know you must be terribly desirous of returning to the bar, to drink and carouse with your friends.”

“I wouldn’t say ‘terribly desirous’,” I said.

“But still desirous.”

“Well, I at least want to get back in time to eat my bacon-cheeseburger before it gets cold.”

“And your french fries.”

“Yes, those too,” I said.

“You men like to eat, don’t you?”

“I think all human beings like to eat,” I said. “Regardless of sex.”

“Please don’t use that sort of language in front of me. I don’t care what you say behind my back but please don’t use such vulgar language within my earshot.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Don’t be sorry, just don’t do it.”

“I’ll try not to,” I said.

“Anyway you’re wrong.”

“I am?”


“About what?”

“About all human beings liking to eat, regardless of -- of --”

“Of gender?”

“Yes, regardless of whether that person be male or female. Personally I would prefer never to eat. Except perhaps for a half a slice of dry toast with my morning cup of black coffee. A bite of crisp butter cookie with my afternoon tea. Very occasionally I might have a tiny slice of gingerbread with warm milk on a cold night before I retire.”

“I stand corrected,” I said.

Now I was really getting hungry.

“I see you brought your epic poem,” she said.

“Oh, yes,” I said. “This old thing.”

“Afraid to leave it in there?”

“Not really, but Sam advised me to take it with me.”

“Mr. Clemens spoke with reason. Yours would not be the first literary work to go missing in that place. You know you really shouldn’t be carrying it around like that all loose and unprotected from the elements and misadventure.”

“I know,” I said.

“Don’t you have an attaché case? A portfolio of some sort?”

“Not that I know of. But I promise to buy one or the other with the first installment of my book advance.”

“Don’t do it on my account.”

“I won’t,” I said.

“I wish you wouldn’t be cruel. I have only your best interests at heart.”

“I didn’t mean to be cruel,” I said. “I only meant that I would buy a briefcase or something because it would be the -- uh -- the practical thing to do, and, also, uh --”

“And what?”

“Well, and also because then people would stop telling me to buy a briefcase. Or attaché case.”

“A leather portfolio would do.”

“Yes,” I said, “or one of those.”

“So, you’re probably wondering why I asked you to come out here with me.”

“Uh, yeah, but, um, listen, Emily?”

“That is indeed my Christian name, and, yes, you may address me as such.”

“Okay, um --”

“Perhaps I may address you by your forename.”

“Yeah, sure.”



“You are perspiring, Porter, even though we have come out here from that smoky fetid place reeking of tobacco smoke and, yes, of the cloying fumes of marijuana and opium, into the relatively fresh night air.”

It was true, I could feel the cool sweat on my brow. I reached into my jacket pocket, brought out the cocktail napkin I felt in there so I could mop my forehead with it. Then I realized that this was the napkin I had folded the cherry and the sleeping fly into.

I didn’t want to seem strange by putting the napkin back in my pocket right after taking it out, so, very gently, I dabbed my forehead with it.

I heard a buzzing.

“What is that noise?” said Emily.


“Yes, a buzzing sound, it seems to be coming from your forehead.”

“I don’t hear anything.”

Now I was really sweating. I dabbed my forehead some more, and the buzzing grew louder.

“Don’t tell me you don’t hear that,” she said.

“Hear what?”

“A buzzing, like unto a fly, or a mosquito.”

“No, I don’t, uh --”

“Perhaps it is the workings of the machinery of your poet’s mind.”

“I doubt that,” I said.

“So you do hear it?”

“No, I can’t say that I do, heh heh --”

Like a fool I kept dabbing at my relentlessly oozing forehead, and of course the poor trapped fly buzzed all the louder.

“You’re telling me you can’t hear that,” she said.

“No,” I said.

“Perhaps I am going mad then.”

“Oh, no, heh heh --”

The buzzing stopped.

The cocktail napkin had grown quite sodden. Had I asphyxiated the poor fly?

Sweat still streaming from my eyebrows into my eyes I carefully began to unfold the napkin, and all of a sudden the fly burst out of it like a shot and flew madly away.

“Was that a fly?” Emily said.


“I thought I saw a fly fly out of that beverage napkin.”

“Oh, really?” I quickly stuffed the napkin and its enfolded cherry back into my jacket pocket. “So, Emily,” I said, “here’s the thing.”

“Here’s what thing?”

“Well, the thing is, I just wanted to tell you, uh, I have a girlfriend.”


“You know, a lady friend.”

“I am familiar with both terms. What I do not understand is why you feel it incumbent upon yourself to share this information with me. I assure you I have no interest in your private affairs. In fact I suspect that the less I know of them the better.”

“Oh, well, it’s just because, you know, you asked me to meet you out here and all --”


“You know.”

“I see,” she said.

“Um --”

“How dare you.”

“Pardon me?”

“How dare you. Do I look like the sort of female who makes carnal assignations with gentlemen she has only just barely met?”

“Well, no --”

“How dare you.”

“But -- that note you gave me. The little heart you drew.”

“I always draw little hearts with my notes. Even my notes to the milkman are adorned with little hearts.”

“Oh,” I said. “I misunderstood.”

She looked away, out to the sidewalk and the street above us, the glistening rain falling through the light of a streetlamp, her face glowing red from the neon Rheingold sign. A tear rolled down her cheek.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“I don’t know if I even want to show you now,” she said.

“Show me?”

Still looking away she reached into the pocket of her apron and brought out a small sheath of papers, folded once.

“These,” she said. “My more recent scribblings of verse. I wanted to, to ask you --”


She turned and looked at me, with wet eyes.

“I wanted to ask if you would read them, and tell me if they suspire.”


“If they breathe.”


“You know,” she said, I think beginning to lose patience with me, “do they live?”

“Oh,” I said. “Is that all?”

“’Is that all?’”

“Oh, I didn’t mean it that way, I just meant, like, you know, whew --”


“I mean, I’m glad I was mistaken about why you wanted to meet me and all.”

“Oh. You’re glad.”

“Well, I mean, only because --”

“Because I am a mousy small creature, odd and ill-favored.”

“No, not at all, I mean, just because I have a girlfriend --”

“Yes, yes, of course. So will you read them.”

“Well, I’m not much of an expert really.”

“But your book is about to be published.”

“Yeah, but really, I mean, I never even read other people’s poems. All I read is mysteries mostly.”


“Yeah. Or, like, books about guys caught in a whirlpool of lust and passion --”

“Oh please.”

“Or comic books,” I said.

“Comic books.”

“Yes,” I said.

“So you won’t read my poems.”

“Oh, no, I’ll read them, I mean if you really want me to, but --”

Footsteps were approaching on the sidewalk. It sounded like a man and a woman.

Then I heard a familiar ringing voice.

“Oh! What is this place? Is this a bar? Let’s go in this place!”

And then, standing on the sidewalk at the top of the areaway steps in the rain, I saw Julian and Emily -- the other Emily -- Julian holding an open umbrella in one hand and Emily’s briefcase in the other, and both of them looking exceedingly drunk.

“Porter!” cried Emily. “So there you are!”

“Oh, boy,” muttered Julian.

Emily practically fell down the steps in her hurry, and she slammed into me, grabbing me by both arms and kissing me on the cheek.

“Porter, darling, where have you been?”

She was talking in her sort-of English accent again, pronouncing “been” as “bean”.

“Oh, nowhere,” I said.

Still holding tightly to both my arms she turned to face Emily the waitress.

“And who is your new friend.”

“Oh,” I said. “Emily, this is Emily.”

(Continued here, bloodied, but unbowed.)

(Turn to the right hand column of this page to find what is, on a good day, an up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode sponsored in part by The Amalgamated Tea Party of America: “Let’s Keep America Safe For Fat White People”.)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 223: get a grip

Arnold Schnabel has been transformed by his nemesis the Prince of Darkness into “Porter Walker”, a slightly daft but devilishly handsome young poet in Ye Cannot Quench, a slightly obscure Bildungsroman of 1950s New York City by Gertrude Evans (author of over forty other books, including The Enchanted Moustache Cup; Fly Away, Sweet Pigeon; Yesterday Never Comes; Two Girls Named Stasha; and My Friend Arnold Schnabel: A Personal Memoir).

When last we saw Arnold (or Porter), he was having a drink with his deific friend Josh at the back-room bar of a mysterious Greenwich Village bistro called Valhalla, when who should suddenly appear but the publicist Nicky Boskins, an urbane gentleman with a disquieting resemblance to the aforementioned Dark Prince...

(We have had an unfortunate break in our publication schedule; those in need of a refreshened memory may go here to read our previous episode; for the curious newcomer, click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning saga of the man Harold Bloom has called “the consummate hero of our age; indeed a hero for all the ages”.)

He was proffering his hand, so there wasn’t much else to do but transfer Thomas Wolfe’s Parker ballpoint from my right hand to my left, and give Nicky my right hand. As usual his grip was oddly strong and weirdly warm, like that of a heavyweight boxer with a high fever.

“Who’s your buddy?” he said, not letting go of my hand.

(What was it with these guys and their lingering handshakes? Personally speaking I’d prefer not to shake anyone’s hand, ever.)

“My name’s Josh,” said Josh, filling in the space left by my socially-inept lucubrations.

“Oh, yeah, this is Josh,” I said, trying ineffectually to tug my hand free of Nicky's. “Josh, this is Mr., uh –”

Josh had his own hand expectantly extended to Nicky, but now that I had foolishly gone for the more formal “Mister” introduction I couldn’t remember Nicky’s last name. Bottoms? Buscomb? Buttons? Battersea?

“Mr. um, uh –” I stalled. "Ba-, Buh-"

“Boskins,” said Nicky, I think with a slightly disappointed inflection, and finally dropping my throbbing hand as if it were a day-old dead flounder. “But call me Nicky, Josh.”

“Nicky it is,” said Josh, and they clasped hands.

“Strong grip you’ve got there,” said Nicky.

“You too,” said Josh.

Instead of letting it go at that and releasing their respective grips like normal people, they continued to squeeze each other’s right hands.

“Do you perform isometrics?” asked Nicky. “Or perhaps some other form of manual exercise.” Sweat was breaking out on his forehead.

“Not if I can help it,” said Josh, gritting his cigarette in his teeth.

“Nevertheless I daresay you do some hearty work with your hands,” said Nicky. “Sculpture perhaps?”

“Carpentry, actually,” said Josh.

Sweat was pouring down both their faces now.

“Professional carpenter?” said Nicky.

“No,” said Josh. “I wouldn’t say so.”

“And what is your line if I may be so bold to ask?”

“My line?”

I could feel the heat emanating from their fastened squeezing hands glowing red in the dim bar light.

“Your métier,” said Nicky. He was smiling but breathing hard. “Your ‘gig’ as our friend Porter here might call it. Your work.”

“Oh,” said Josh. With his free left hand he took the cigarette from between his teeth. “I don’t work.”

“Lucky you,” said Nicky. “Where’d you get that shiner?”


“You have a terrific black eye, or didn’t you know?”

“I do?”

Without relinquishing his grip Josh turned on his barstool and looked at the mirror behind the bar.

“Well, so I do,” he said.

“Somebody take a poke at you?”

“There was a brief outburst of hostilities, yes. This Hemingway fellow.”

“Ernest Hemingway?”


“You got in a scrap with Ernie Hemingway? Where was this?”

“Across the street there. The San Remo?”

“Hemingway was in there and I missed him?”


“I suppose you said something disparaging about his writing?”

“Yes, but in the same breath I had mentioned how very much I admire his early work.”

“In other words you told him he’s a washed-up old has-been.”

“What gets me is he threw the first punch and yet I was the one who got kicked out of the place.”

“Welcome to Greenwich Village. Famous writers get away with murder here.”

All through this banter they kept their death-grips on each other’s hands, their tensed faces glowing like stop-lights now, their shirt collars soaked with perspiration, beads of sweat dancing like rain off their suit jackets, their eyes bulging as if they were both in the midst of the world’s most stubbornly impacted bowel movements.

Suddenly the waitress Emily was standing there. She no longer carried her cocktail tray.

“Is this some primitive masculine mating ritual?” she said.

“Oh, hello,” said Josh.

“Heh heh,” said Nicky.

“Perhaps you should remove your clothing and treat us to a demonstration of ancient Hellenistic wrestling,” she said. “We could ask Whitman to referee.”

Nicky and Josh’s faces both flushed an even deeper red, and finally they disengaged each other’s hands with a wet popping sound.

She now ignored Josh and Nicky and stared at me, then tossed her head toward the hallway. (But not literally, I hasten to add.)

“Um,” I said.

She continued to stare at me for thirty long seconds, then turned and walked with a prim but determined stride toward the previously indicated exit.

“What the hell was that all about?” said Nicky, waving his inflamed right hand up and down.

“Porter has a date,” said Josh, massaging his own slightly swollen right hand with his left hand.

“With Miss Emily?”

Josh shrugged, reaching for his beer bottle.

“Ha ha. Hey, Tom,” said Nicky, calling to the bartender, and holding out three fingers. “Three more of the same here. How about a round of shots, gentlemen?”

I started to say “No thank you” but Josh butted in with a “Sure, don’t mind if we do”, and Nicky called out, “And, Tom, three good drams of whatever these fellows are drinking.”

“Old Forester?” said Josh.

“Three Old Foresters,” called Nicky, taking out a silver cigarette case. Josh still had a cigarette going, but Nicky clicked his case open and offered its contents to me. I came really close to taking one. I even lifted up my hand as if to take one. But then I felt a stare from across the room. It was the waitress, Emily, standing at the entrance to the hallway, glaring at me, her fists balled at her sides.

“Go ahead, take one, Porter,” said Nicky.

“No, I’d better not,” I said. “I’ve, uh, quit smoking –”

“Not me,” he said. He took one out, snapped the case shut, dropped it into his side jacket pocket. “So what happened to your little friend from earlier tonight? Betty?”

“Betsy,” I said. “She, uh, went home.”

He reached into his inside jacket pocket and took out his cigarette holder. It was shiny and black.

“Can’t win ‘em all, pal,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.

I turned away from him, glanced at the cocktail napkin on the bar before me, the one I had intended to use to write myself out of this mess. I still held Thomas Wolfe’s pen in my left hand. I transferred the pen back to my right hand, but I couldn’t concentrate. Not with Emily the waitress over there across the room, staring a hole into the back of my skull. I put the pen down, picked up my bottle of Falstaff and took a good gulp.

The band had now kicked into a rousing rendition of “Beautiful Dreamer”, with Walt taking a guest lead vocal.

I took another good long gulp of the beer and finished the bottle.

I got up off my stool.

Nicky had screwed the cigarette into his holder, and Josh was giving him a light with his black and gold Ronson.

“I’d better go,” I said.

“Oh my God, you’re really going to meet her?” said Nicky, exhaling a great cloud of warm fragrant smoke.

“I’ll be right back.”

“Fantastic,” he said.

“Should I come looking for you?” said Josh. “I mean if you’re not back in say fifteen minutes.”

“No, really, I won’t be long.”

“Or half an hour?”

“Uh –”

“All the years I’ve been coming in here,” said Nicky. “I have never seen that girl show a carnal interest in a fellow. No, wait, I remember she had a crush on Hart Crane one time. But needless to say that didn’t work out.”

“I’ll just be a minute,” I said.

“I’ll keep your barstool warm,” said Nicky.

I started off across the room.

Emily turned and disappeared down the hallway.

I followed her.

(Continued here, bashing on regardless.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page for a probably up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Coming soon, exclusively to Woolworths: It Might as Well Be Schnabel: A Miscellany; edited by Kitty Carlisle, with a Foreword by Steve Allen; an Ace Giant Paperback Original; 75¢.)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cape May

My mom, my dad, and my sister Kate, Perry Street beach, Cape May

We finally put my mother’s ashes in the ground, a week after the funeral. She had wanted to be buried with my father, in a military cemetery, and she got her wish.

The man who had just finished filling in the grave took his cap off and said, simply, “My condolences.”

We walked about thirty yards away and I found my dad’s father’s and my grandmother’s graves, Joseph Edward Leo and Rose Leo, side by side. I saw that my grandmother and grandfather had been born two days apart in 1896, and that my grandfather had been in the 147 MG BN, 41 DIV, in World War I. I also saw that my grandmother outlived my grandfather by thirty-two years, just as my mother outlived my dad by thirty-three years.

My grandfather was a Philly cop, an alcoholic apparently, and so my grandmother left him and moved with my dad’s brother and sister to Cape May, New Jersey. She worked as a cleaning lady, and then she bought a big ramshackle unheated white Victorian house on North Street, she bought it for a song because the formerly well-off people who owned it had lost their money and couldn’t pay the taxes. My grandmother rented out rooms to summer vacationers, and then one day she bought the old Victorian next door, at Perry and North, and over the years she acquired a few cottages and a barn behind the big white house.

Eventually my grandmother’s three maiden sisters, my great-aunts Edna, Kate and Sarah Reilly, who all worked at the armory in Philadelphia, bought another boarding house right down the street on Perry. I have very fond memories of summers and being coddled by all four of these tiny old women. I would buy remaindered and second-hand comic books from Wally's cigar shop on Washington Street, a shop that actually had a cigar store Indian in front. I would sit on my aunts’ porch and read comics all day, and every once in a while my aunts would give me some crackers or a liverwurst sandwich to eat, and some ginger ale. It was kid heaven. Every once in a while I would be asked to mow a lawn or trim some hedges, but that was fun too.

For me summers were Cape May, with plenty of family around, aunts, uncles, cousins, some of them living there year round, some coming down for the summer or for vacations, everyone within a few blocks of everyone else...

My grandmother was extremely religious. It was a point of some contention among some in my family when she gave away the big white house to the Franciscans, but I always figured it was her property to do with as she pleased.

She had no real interest in physical comforts or luxuries. She always lived either in a small one-room apartment in one of her houses or, in her last years, in a tiny cottage in the back yard of her property.

Her one concession to the beauties of the physical world was gardening. Her gardens were beautiful and lush, her hedges perfectly trimmed, her grounds in summer smelled like flowers, mixing in with that old Cape May smell of damp wood and salty air.

I remember when my grandmother was in her declining days I would go and visit her every day when she was in Pennsylvania Hospital for a couple of weeks. She would say, “You don’t have to come here every day. You must have other things to do.” That was my grandmother, tough as nails to the end.

She remained separated from my grandfather for about twenty-five years I think, but they never got divorced. They were old school Catholics. And when my grandmother died three decades after my grandfather she was buried at his side...

The cemetery was enormous, row on row of uniform headstones as far as the eye could see, the memories of thousands of men and of their wives.

One little patch of this cemetery includes the memories of my mother and of my father, and those of my dad’s father and my grandmother.