Friday, December 31, 2010

The Legend of Gooney McFarland

That's Gooney on the right, posing for his legion of fans at his disastrous wedding reception at the VFW

(In response to hundreds of cards and letters we present this very special re-broadcast of one of our perennial holiday favorites. )

Every neighborhood has one: the neighborhood nut-case; Olney back in the day distinguished itself by boasting dozens of neighborhood nut-cases at any given time. Every block had its nut-case, sometimes every house on the block had its nut-case, and indeed often there were heroic semidetached- and row-homes harboring more than one nutcase, or even a whole roistering clan of nut-cases. Lots of nut-cases in Olney. But in this land of the insane no one was less sane, and no one more feared, reviled, ridiculed, and defamed than one Martin de Pours McFarland, better known simply as “Gooney”.

Gooney McFarland (born in 1950 in one of those "new" houses on Wentz Street, right by the Heintz factory) always seemed to get there first. He first got arrested at the age of eight, for breaking a window of Zapf’s music store and trying to steal one of their brand-new electric semi-hollowbody Gibson guitars. The young Gooney was a major Elvis fan at the time and he wanted his own guitar, so that he could learn how to play it and become a rock and roll sex king. Good thing for Gooney, his father, Frank X. McFarland, was a policeman. And Mr. McFarland’s job continued to be a good thing in the subsequent career of the young scalawag (although Gooney's career proved to be far from a good thing for that of the elder Mr. McFarland). It was solely because of the exploits of this young and then not-so-young madman that Officer McFarland was never promoted above the rank of patrolman, this proud ex-marine, this hardworking Joe who put himself through LaSalle College on the GI Bill while working fulltime as a cop, this staunch Catholic who fathered nine children (all of them good kids, except for the middle one, you-know-who).

First of the gang to be arrested, Gooney racked up many other firsts. In 1963 he became the first kid on the block to try pills. He had noticed the slick-suited boys from the “Harrowgate Mob” hanging around the corners of the Heintz factory compound. These guys were cool, with their skinny ties from Krass Brothers and their pennyloafers from Thom McAn, and Gooney wanted to be like them. The Harrowgate hoods soon had the young Gooney running back and forth across the street to double-shifting Heintz workers parked in their junkers, handing over little bags of pills in exchange for hard cash, which he would run back and deliver to the Harrowgate boys in one of their souped-up Thunderbirds. The Harrowgates were always wired to the gills, and of course Gooney, who would have jumped off the Betsy Ross Bridge if the Harrowgates were jumping too, tried a sample of the product, loved it, and became at the tender age of twelve the neighborhood's youngest drug addict, with a special love for the uppers called “Pink Footballs”. Alas, perhaps it was the drug that made Gooney so bold as to begin stealing from his heroes, shorting them on both pills and cash. But if Gooney was always a bold thief, he was never really a good thief. He couldn’t do anything quietly, the concept of discretion was alien and hateful to him, and he could not stand not to boast to one and all of any new crime he had committed. So it took the Harrowgate Mob about two whole days to realize that this little brat was ripping them off. They beat him up and then tossed him down that trash-filled gorge in the woods across Front Street from Cardinal Dougherty High School. But what did Gooney care, after he finally awoke in Einstein Hospital the next day? This would be just another one of the many stories he could bore people with his whole life.

First to get busted and take pills, first to get the last piece of shit beaten absolutely out of his wiry little form, Gooney was the first to try pot as well; the first in the neighborhood to sell pot; the first to get busted for selling pot; and the first to get sent down to Juvie, despite all the best efforts of the beleaguered Officer McFarland. Down at the Detention Center at 100 W. Coulter Street, Gooney became the first kid ever to attempt escape from the roof, trying to rappel down on a clothesline that turned out to reach only to within 50 feet of the ground.

After six more months in the hospital the now permanently-limping Gooney was released and sent back to the familial mini-manse on Wentz Street. Officer McFarland, a long-time usher at St. Helena’s Church (in which capacity he was a colleague of Olney's poet laureate Arnold Schnabel), amazingly was able to talk the priests at Cardinal Dougherty High into admitting Gooney as a freshman in the fall of 1966. He was put into the lowest academic section (Section 20, “the Vegetables” as the “Brains” in Sections 1-3 cruelly dubbed them), but even the easygoing courses in this nether-region (Basic Shop, Basic Phys. Ed., Basic Numbers and an English course based on the “Dr. Seuss” books) proved beyond the limits of his attention. He drew all Fs that first semester, but this didn’t bother Gooney because he had scored in those months another first: first kid in the neighborhood to try LSD.

The incredibly patient Principal Father Dean allowed Gooney one more semester to try and buckle down and straighten out. Gooney got four Fs again. Who gets Fs in Phys Ed, anyway? Who flunks a course where the most rigorous reading assignment is “The Cat in the Hat”? A daily tripping Gooney McFarland, that’s who.

Next year it was off to the brutal grey corridors of the dreaded Olney High for our young hero. Little afraid of the striding African American teen gangs the Clang Gang and the Moroccans, Gooney blithely befriended the black kids, even affecting their mannerisms, dialect and mode of dress. He soon became the Clang Gang’s liaison-drugrunner to the school’s white kids. The Clang Gang had apparently not heard of Gooney’s treachery a few years before with the white Harrowgate Mob. But they soon experienced a similar treachery, and one day Gooney was sent sailing, flailing his arms and screaming bloody murder, out of a third floor window of Olney High.

Eight months in the hospital and young Gooney was back on the street, or at least back in his parents’ house, where he spent several months watching TV (Sally Starr's Popeye Theater was his favorite) and getting his strength back.

The year was 1968, and every young man in his right mind was doing everything he possibly could to avoid the draft and Vietnam. Gooney of course on his 18th birthday took the subway downtown and volunteered for the marines at their recruiting office at Broad and Cherry. His services were refused by the USMC, on grounds both physical, educational, and most of all, psychological. Gooney marched right over to the army office and was soon frog-marched right out again and ordered never to darken their doors again. The army was desperate for manpower in that awful year but not quite that desperate. The distraught Gooney went wandering down to the low bars by the docks. In one of these reeking hellholes he met some off-duty sailors from the naval base; words were exchanged, he was taken outside and soundly thrashed, then tossed down into a forty-foot deep urban renewal excavation. So it was off to the hospital again for the patriotic young Gooney, who only wanted to serve, or at any rate who only wanted to, as he put it, “kick ass for my country”, but who instead got his own ass kicked by his country’s servicemen.

So it went for Gooney. When he had sufficiently recovered his old man got him a job as a slag shoveler at the neighboring Heintz plant. Gooney lasted almost a month. Next up was a good job as a janitor at the Tastykake factory, and Gooney managed to last three months there. During his tenure at Tastykake a young assembly line-worker named Barbara “Babbles” Boylan for some mysterious reason or reasons took a shine to the manic, hobbling, broken-nosed Gooney McFarland. She became "in the family way", there was a very hurried wedding at St. Helena’s, followed by a drunken riot at the reception at the VFW on Chew Street; and Gooney, instead of heading off to the planned honeymoon in Wildwood, spent the next six weeks in the hospital, followed by six months' convalescence at Holmesburg Prison on four counts of aggravated assault and battery.

Released, Gooney moved into the Rosemar Street rowhome of his pregnant young wife. Mr. Boylan got Gooney a job as an apprentice roofer. On his fifth day at work, while eating a hoagie and drinking a pint can of Ortlieb's and dangling his feet off the edge of the roof of a 75-foot high warehouse in Kensington, Gooney somehow managed to fall off.

After recovering once more, Gooney flat-out refused ever to work again. He applied for a disability pension, and his father and his father-in-law (thinking only of his new baby boy and his poor wife Babbles) pulled some strings with the local Democratic party bigwigs, and Gooney was awarded a modest disability allotment.

Gooney now spent his days in the bars, any bars that would have him, but primarily the Green Parrot, the Huddle, Pat’s Tavern, and occasionally even Smith’s way over on Broad Street, never visiting the same bar two days in a row lest he wear out his always tenuous welcome.

One day he walked out of the Green Parrot, took all his clothes off (it was December, and snowing) and went across 5th Street to Fisher Park, where he proceeded to roll down Dead Man’s Hill, over and over again.

It required six patrolmen to get Gooney into a paddy wagon, and his next permanent address was the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry, in the Great Northeast section of Philadelphia, an institution popularly known simply as “Byberry”, or “the looney bin.”

Here at Byberry he achieved perhaps the most difficult of his many “firsts”. He became the first and only inmate in Byberry’s long and inglorious history to escape from the “Violently Insane” ward.

Somehow Gooney removed not only the wire mesh but the steel bars from his fourth floor window. No one knows how. There were no tools found and the mesh and bars seemed somehow simply to have been ripped with main force from the granite window frame. This time there was no rope however, merely two sheets knotted together and seventy-five feet of empty space below the end of them.

Gooney was found the next morning on the front stoop of his parents’ semi-detached on Wentz Street, clad only in his bloodied and soiled hospital pajamas and slippers, with both his legs broken and his skull fractured.

When he awoke from his coma a week later his first words were, “Am I dead yet?”

Incredibly, no. Perhaps it was Mr. Elwood Smith, the venerable proprietor of Smith’s Restaurant at Broad and Olney, who summed up Gooney McFarland best: “Some guys you got to beat into the grave with a stick.”

(Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page for listings of links to other "Tales From the O-Zone". You might also enjoy our serialization of Railroad Train to Heaven, the complete and unexpurgated memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, Olney's beloved "Rhyming Brakeman".)

And now, performing Gooney McFarland's favorite song, The Honeycombs, featuring the fabulously coiffed Honey Lantree on the drums:

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A New Year's toast from Arnold Schnabel

By popular demand we re-broadcast this masterful sonnet from that dour period immediately preceding Arnold Schnabel’s complete mental breakdown; originally published in the Olney Times for January 4, 1963; two weeks later Arnold would be in a padded cell at the Philadelphia State Mental Hospital at Byberry.

If the present poem appears particularly gloomy even for this time of the year, please remember that this particular new year's eve was a mere two months after the Cuban Missile Crisis, during which the destruction of mankind suddenly loomed as a very actual possibility, and concerning the horror of which Arnold Schnabel had already versified so beautifully.

(The “Chew Avenue” of the title refers to the location -- on the corner of Chew and Lawrence -- of Arnold's local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, now sadly defunct.)

New Year’s Eve on Chew Avenue

It’s New Year’s Eve, it seems we’ve made it,
If only barely, through another year;
The terror, if not gone, has abated
Into a dull and grey persistent fear.
My mother’s sound asleep by eleven,
So I go to the VFW,
Shove to the bar of this drunkard’s heaven,
And say, “Pat, if you please, I’ll trouble you
For a Schmidt’s, backed with an Old Forester,
And keep them coming till I say not to,
Or until you throw me out; whatever;
Do what your conscience says that you’ve got to.”
I take that first sacred drink of cold beer:
“Happy new (let’s hope it’s not our last) year.”

(Republished with the kind permission of the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia, PA. Kindly look to the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to many other fine poems by Arnold Schnabel, many of them suitable for recitations and toasts at family, business or social gatherings, weddings, and funerals during this holiday season. Be sure also to visit our ongoing serialization of Arnold's classic memoir Railroad Train to Heaven.*)

*"I read a page or two every night before retiring." -- Bertrand Russell

Saturday, December 25, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 230: battle

Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel has been transformed by the Prince of Darkness into “Porter Walker, poet and Lothario”, a character in the once slightly-popular novel (#87 on Redbook’s “100 Beach Books For the Summer of 1960”) Ye Cannot Quench by Gertrude Evans (legendary cult author of over sixty other books, including I’ll Get Back To You Next Week; Cast Caution to the Winds!; Jody The Elevator Girl; I’ll Stop When You Stop; and the Pennzoil Literary Award short-listed The Princess, the Poet, and the Pigeon).

(Go here to read our preceding chapter; in case you’ve been stricken with a severe case of gout and expect to be bed-ridden through the winter months you may click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 51-volume epic of autobiography.)

“Frankly I had given up on so-called serious reading and was spending most of my spare time reading mysteries and books about bridge. Then one fateful day in the University Club library as I was looking for a Dick Francis that I hadn’t read too recently I happened upon a dog-eared Ace paperback edition of the first volume of Arnold Schnabel’s memoirs. And my life was changed, changed utterly.” -- Harold Bloom,
in Man’s Adventure.)

Of course I was taken aback.

“How did you get in here?” I said, feeling as if I were reading from a script.

“Oh, please,” said Nicky. “This isn’t exactly Fort Knox, you know. By the way, do you want to duck into the head for a few minutes and relieve yourself?”


With the two fingers that held his cigarette he pointed to my inguinal area.

“Oh,” I said, looking down again. Fortunately, I could feel the blood already draining back into my torso and the offending organ shrinking, and no wonder. “I don’t think that will be necessary,” I said.

“You and the chicks, Porter, you and the chicks. Ha ha ha.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Very funny.”

“Ha ha ha. Even your landlady. How was she anyway?”

“I consider that question ungentlemanly and one I would never deign to answer.”

“Oh, excuse me!”

The funny thing was that the thing that annoyed me the most just then was the way he had his shoes up on the table, on my papers, my poetry. Well, it was Porter’s poetry, but still. So I spoke up.

“Look,” I said, “do you mind taking your feet off of the table?”

Nicky looked at his feet, as if quizzically.

“Oh. I suppose that was a little rude of me.”

He lifted his feet off the table and put them on the floor, in the process pushing some of my papers fluttering to the floor as well.

“Oh, great,” I said. “Now I’m going to have to reorganize all my papers.”

“Does it really matter if they’re organized or not?” he said. “Seems to me you could just throw them together at random and they’d make as much sense.”

“What do you know about poetry?”

“Well, not a whole lot I suppose.”

I noticed he wasn’t using his cigarette holder. Did he only use it in public, when he wanted to impress people? Did I not count as someone worth impressing?

“You could at least pick them up,” I said.

“Pick what up?”

“My papers you’ve just knocked onto the floor.”

“You’re kidding me, right?”

“No, I’m not kidding. It’s just common courtesy.”

I went over and bent over and picked the papers up myself.

“All right, I’m sorry,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Don’t you number your pages?”

I glanced at the papers in my hand.

“Apparently not,” I said.

“Well, wouldn’t it make it easier if you --”

“Listen,” I said, “what are you doing here anyway? Sitting here. Drinking my whiskey.”

“Oh. Okay. Now you’re really kidding me.”


“Arnold, it’s me. Lucky.”

“Oh,” I said. Then, the full realization finally dawning: “Oh.”

“Yes,” he said.

“So it really is you.”

“What did you think?”

“But -- you said you were really this Nicky Boskins, public relations man. With a wife and three kids in -- where?”


“Scarsdale,” I said. “In a fine old Victorian house.”

“Merely one of my personae,” he said.

“I don’t know what that word means,” I admitted.

“I thought you knew Latin, like a good Catholic boy.”

“Well, to be quite honest, I only know what’s in the Roman Catholic mass,” I said. “And barely that.”

“I’m disappointed,” he said. “And you a poet and all.”

“Yes, but I’m not a good poet. And I left school at thirteen to go to work.”

“My heart bleeds. Well, anyway, personae is the plural of persona, like a guise, a role.”

“Oh, I get it,” I said. “I think I’ve seen that. Just didn’t know how to pronounce it.”

“The curse of the autodidact. An autodidact is --”

“I know what an autodidact is,” I said, although to tell the truth I wasn’t entirely sure.

“No need to get touchy,” he said.

I tapped the papers straight on the table top.

Hey, pal, who is this asshole?” whispered the fly in my ear.

I laid the papers down on some other papers next to my typewriter, making sure I didn’t get too close to Nicky, or Lucky I suppose I should call him.

Just think your answer,” said the fly, “I’ll hear it.

“He’s the Devil,” I thought.

Fuckin’ hell!

“So get a glass,” said Lucky. “Or a jelly jar, whatever.”

I hesitated.

Kick him in the face,” whispered the fly. “I hate this fucking guy. He’s the one turned me into a fly.

“I said get a glass, Arnold,” said Lucky. He was starting to look more like Lucky and less like Nicky each passing second.

Grab the typewriter and smash it on his skull,” said the fly.

I turned, headed toward the sink.

Porter, Arnold, whatever the hell your name is,” whispered the fly, “what’re you doin’?”

“I’m stalling,” I thought.


“Yes. I can’t beat him in a fair fight. He has the strength of ten men, plus I think he knows judo or jiu-jitsu. I have to out-fox him somehow.”

Well, okay, might as well have a drink then.

“You’re awfully quiet, Arnold,” said Lucky.

Just to annoy him, but also because I really had nothing to say to his remark, I said nothing.

The glass that both the fly and I had used earlier in the day was still in the sink. I didn’t see any dish soap, but I turned on the tap and gave the glass a thorough rinse with hot water.

“You know,” said Lucky, “you’ve really impressed me today.”

“Oh really?” I said.

“Yes. I thought I was going to drive you crazy by exiling you into this universe.”

“Ha,” I said.

There was no dishtowel around, so I just shook the glass in the air to get some of the water off it.

That’s right,” whispered the fly. “Treat the bastard with the contempt he so richly deserves.

I turned around and headed back to the table.

“You forgot one thing, Lucky,” I said. “If I may call you Lucky.”

“Or Mr. Lucky. Or Lucifer’s okay. Or Dark Lord.”


“Call me Lucky then. What did I forget?”

I walked around to the opposite side of the table.

“Sit down, Arnold.”

There was a chair there, so I sat in it, across from him. He pushed the Early Times toward me. He reached into his inside jacket pocket, brought out his cigarette case, clicked it open.


“I’ve quit,” I said.

“And again I say, oh, please. Arnold old man, do you think you’re going to live forever?”

“I doubt it.”

“Or even, say, oh, I don’t know, five more minutes?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Have a cigarette. One last cigarette. One really, really, final last cigarette.”

“No thanks.”

He clicked the case shut, put it back into his jacket.

“So what did I forget?” he said.

I took the bottle. He hadn’t put the cap back on. I poured myself a shot, a double shot really. I took a drink.

Save some for me, pal,” whispered the fly.

“Arnold,” said Lucky, “I asked you to tell me what I forgot. Or what you claim I forgot.”

The whiskey tasted good. I took another sip, savoring it. I turned my head, looked out the window that gave onto the Bowery. It was still raining out there, and rainwater had wet and was wetting the windowsill.

I turned back to Lucky. I put my glass down.

“What you forgot,” I said, “is that you can’t drive a crazy man crazy.”

Lucky just stared at me. His moustache had grown back, and his eyes had become darker, almost black.

Oh my God, you’re getting to him, pal,” said the fly. “You’re really getting the bastard’s goat.

“I could drag you down to the flaming pits of hell this very second if I wanted to,” said Lucky.

“What’s stopping you?”

He continued to stare at me. Sweat beaded on his forehead.

“You’ve got something up your sleeve, don’t you?” he said.

Actually I had nothing up my sleeve. I had nothing. Except my insanity.

I stared into his eyes. True, they were frightening, like two holes looking into the abyss of the universe. But I had looked into that abyss before, I had fallen into it, and I had come out again. None of this was really new to me.

Hey, pal --” the fly started to say, sounding nervous, but I cut him off.

“Quiet,” I thought. “I’m trying to concentrate.”

Sorry, pal, do what you gotta do.”

“You’ve got some deal with your buddy, don’t you?” said Lucky. “Your so-called friend -- ‘Josh’.”

As far as I knew Josh unfortunately was still getting drunk at that writers’ bar on MacDougal Street with Pat and Carlotta and the rest of the gang, but of course I didn’t say this.

“I don’t make deals,” I said.

I have no idea why I said this. It just sounded like a “cool” thing to say.

“You don’t make deals,” said Lucky.

I said nothing. I took another drink, finishing what was in the glass.

I picked up the bottle, poured myself another good shot. There was still a little left in the bottle.

“Do you want some more?” I said.


He hadn’t taken a drink the whole time I’d been in here, and there was still a couple of fingers in his jelly glass.

“Some whiskey,” I said. “Do you want some more?”

“Oh, no thank you, I, uh, I, uh, no, I’m good. Thanks.”

He lifted his glass, took a drink.

He was sweating quite profusely now.

He tapped his cigarette ash into the ashtray that was on the table, the one that said “At the Prince George Hotel -- where the service is swell!

“Hey, you know what I think,” he said, suddenly. He paused. I said nothing. “You know what I think, I think you’re bluffing. That’s what I think. What could you, what could you possibly, what could you -- even if ‘Josh’ were to -- even if -- wait.”

He looked at me. I looked back at him.

I don’t know what you’re doin’, pal,” said the fly, “but keep on doin’ it.

“Wait,” Lucky said, again. “What did -- what did Josh say about me?”

I said nothing.

“Did he -- wait -- did he give you the authority to -- hold on. I know you’ve got an ace in the hole. Did he say that I could, you know --”

I said nothing.

“Did he say I could come back? Is that was this is about? Is this why you’re so --”

“Why would he let you come back?” I said.

“To his father’s house? Why indeed? Why indeed. But -- one time, Arnold, one time, I was pretty tight with that crew, very tight. Okay, some say I got above my station. Well, everyone says that. So okay, I got tossed out. Big deal. We all make mistakes. But. It’s been an eternity, Arnold. Well, not an eternity, that’s impossible, but, like millions, millions, eons, epochs, whatever. A long time. I mean, the big guy’s supposed to be merciful, right? Right?”

I said nothing.

“So where’s the mercy for ol’ Lucifer?”

I held my peace.

“What do you think, can I get back?”

I looked at my drink, then I looked at him.

“Maybe,” I said.



“Can you -- could you -- would you -- I mean, do you think you could work it out for me?”

“Why should I?”

“Why should you? Arnold, you don’t know the real me. I used to be called the Light Bearer, you know. I can be a really good guy. A good guy to know. I’ll be, you know, I’ll be -- what?”


“Yeah, whatever, I’ll be good.”

“You’ll have to put it in writing.”

“Sure. Of course. Whatever.”

“Okay then,” I said.

I pushed my chair back, got up.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Just to get a pen.”

“We can’t use the typewriter?”

“Gotta be a pen.”

I started across the room toward my night table.

“I’ve got a pen,” he said, “a nice one, a Montblanc, right in my pocket.”

“Come on, Lucky, you know we can’t use your pen.”

“Oh. No, I guess not.”

I remembered seeing a tortoise-shell fountain pen on the bed table when I had first woken up here a couple of days ago (what seemed like a year ago). It was still there. I picked it up. It looked familiar. I was pretty sure it was the same pen.

I walked back towards the kitchen table.

“Is this like a contract I’ll have to sign?” said Lucky.

“Yeah, pretty simple,” I said.

I sat down again, took the cap off the pen, replaced it onto the barrel.

“What about all the billions of people who are in Hell?” he asked.

“Well, I don’t know about them,” I said.

“Ah the hell with them anyway, right, heh heh. They deserve to be there. Just kidding.”

“Slide me a blank piece of paper, will you, Lucky?”

“Sure.” He picked up a blank sheet of typewriter paper, handed it to me. “So I guess you just have to, uh, what --”

“Yeah,” I said, “I just have to write something down here -- a little -- what’s the word?”


“Yeah, just a sentence or so.”

“Then I sign it.”

“Sure, if you want to.”

“Oh, I want to, I really want to --”

“Good,” I said.

“Okay. Write away. Can’t wait to get back to the big house. Wonder if I’ll get my old room?”

“Don’t know,” I said.

“You’ve been there, right?”

“Yes, I’ve been there,” I said. “Now, look, I don’t want to seem impolite, but would you mind awfully just being quiet for a few seconds while I write this?”

“Oh, sure, sorry. Go right ahead.”

He finally shut up. The only sound was the rain, and the buzzing sound of the fly, who was now circling above my head.

I wrote what I had to write on the paper, and it didn’t take long.

I took the cap off the barrel of the pen, stuck it back onto the tip.

“Finished?” said Nicky.

“Yes,” I said, putting down the pen. “Here. Read this over.”

I picked the sheet of paper up, handed it to him.

Putting his cigarette between his thin lips, he eagerly turned the paper around so that he could read it.

There was a pause. Outside there was a flash of lightning, then a bang of thunder that sounded like two cement trucks crashing into each other at full speed down in the street.

“You bastard,” said Lucky. His cigarette fell from his lips to the table.

He dropped the paper, then abruptly stood up, knocking over his chair.

“You fucking lying bastard. I’ll fucking --”

There was another, greater flash of lightning, a series of flashes really, and then Lucky was gone, leaving only an opalescent wisp of smoke or vapor and an odor of dog feces and moldy linoleum, of burning compost, of dead bodies.

A rolling barrage of thunderclaps sounded through the windows like a stick of bombs exploding along the Bowery.

Then there was silence, all but for the sound of the rain outside and the buzzing of the fly.

I reached across the table and picked up Lucky’s still-burning cigarette butt, and I stubbed it out into the ashtray.

“Holy shit,” said the fly, zooming merrily around the table. “What did you write on that paper?”

“Can you read?” I asked.

“’Course I can read, I may be a fly but I ain’t illiterate.”

“Here then,” I said. I reached over, picked up the paper and held it up. The fly came down and hovered in front of it.

“Oh you slay me, pal. You absolutely slay me. ‘Go back to hell, you bastard, and stay there.’ Priceless. ‘Go back to hell, you bastard.’ Ha ha ha. ‘And fuckin’ stay there.’ Ha ha ha. I love it, you slay me pal. Let’s have a drink.”

“Good idea,” I said.

(Continued here, somehow, someway, for some unknown reason or reasons.)

(Please look to the right hand side of this page to find a listing of links to all other chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven© which are currently available to humanity. Be sure to tune in to “St Stephen’s Day: The Arnold Schnabel Day After Christmas Special” tonight at 9:00 PM (EST) on the DuMont Television Network, hosted by John Cameron Swayze and starring Dane Clark, Cleo Moore, Audrey Trotter, Dan Duryea, and Zachary Scott; music by the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and the Red Norvo Quintet; special appearances by the June Taylor Dancers and the Mabel Beaton Marionettes; sponsored by Tastykake.)

A very special Arnold Schnabel Christmas sonnet

Some of the boys from the Heintz plant, at the Green Parrot, Christmas Eve 1962

In the spirit of the day we re-broadcast this classic poem from Arnold Schnabel, first published in the Christmas 1962 number of the
Olney Times.

Compliments of the season!

“Christmas Eve in Olney

It’s Christmas Eve, the factories are closed,
The boys from Heintz and Budd and Tastykake*
Are free, the Proctor & Schwartz crew have hosed
Themselves down and gone home, each lad to take
Out his one good suit from off the Sears rack,
A crisp white shirt with tab collar from Krass
A thin dark tie, Thom McAn shoes of black;
Splash some Old Spice, then off to Midnight Mass;
But first a brief stop, but just for the one
At the Green Parrot, the Huddle, or Pat’s,
And perhaps also a shot, one and done,
Make it Four Roses, and backed with a Blatz;
Five to midnight, we have time for one more --
Who would dare bar us from Helena’s door?

*"Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastykake." -- Editor

(Check the right hand column of this page for listings of links to many other fine poems by Arnold Schnabel, as well as to our exclusive ongoing serialization of his
classic Schaefer Award-winning memoir Railroad Train to Heaven.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 229: the idiot

To sum up the events of the past year or so (or the past few days in “Arnold Schnabel Time”) The Evil Trickster has taken his revenge on our hero by transforming him into “Porter Walker” a handsome if preposterous young poet in a now-obscure novel called Ye Cannot Quench, by Gertrude Evans (author of over fifty other bestsellers of yesteryear, notably The Sweet Song of the Pigeon; Billy Budd’s Best Buddy; My Cousin Cletus; High Heels and Low Morals; and A Lady Never Belches), and Arnold (or Porter) is now attempting to make his way back to his own world...

(Click here to review our previous episode; anyone with way too much time on his or her hands may go here to return to that nearly forgotten first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 63-volume memoir. “Arnold Schnabel -- the very name seems to open up a vast world so much more rich and less boring than the one in which we mere mortals toil and and moil our various and sundry ways to the grave.” -- Harold Bloom, in Collier’s.)

I waited. The fly waited. Nothing happened. There was a speaker grill on the wall next to the buzzers, but no sound came out of it.

“Give it another buzz,” said the fly.

I pressed the button again.

Nothing. Silence except for the sound of the falling rain.

“Press it again,” said the fly.

“What if they’re sleeping?”

“Press it again.”

“I’d hate to wake them up. They have kids and all.”

“Just press the button, pal.”

“But I don’t want to be obnoxious.”

“Jesus Mary and Joseph, is it going to kill you to press the buzzer just one more time?”

“No, but --”

“Christ --”

“Hey, you know what? We could go back to that Valhalla bar. Probably Pat and Carlotta are still there --”

“There’s no cabs. You wanta walk all the way back to Bleecker and MacDougal in the rain?”

“Well, no --”

“Me either. Button. Press. It."

“Or, wait, I know -- how about --”

“How about you just press the fucking buzzer again? Christ almighty --”

“Look, what if we go to that Bob’s Bowery Bar around the corner? You wanted to go there anyway, right? We could have a beer.”

“Hmmm, y’know, now that I think about it, that’s not a bad idea, not a bad idea at all --”

“Good,” I said. “We’ll get a couple beers --”

“One beer.” He was excitedly bobbing up and down in the air again now. “It’ll look weird if you buy a beer for a fly.”

“Okay, one beer.”

“And you can just splash a little on the bar top for me.”

“Sure,” I said. “And I’ll ask the bartender for a pencil and paper.”

“Yeah, whatever. Maybe a shot of whiskey, too.”

“Okay, we can get a whiskey --”

“What are we waitin’ for?”

“Right, then,” I said, “Let’s --”

The entrance door opened.

It was Mrs. Morgenstern, wearing an old grey corduroy bathrobe.

“Porter? Who you talking to?”

“Oh, no one.”

“No one.”

“Just, you know, talking to myself.”

“Talking to yourself.”

“Yeah, heh heh, wondering why you didn’t you know, uh --”

I pointed at the speaker.

“You know that thing don’t work,” she said.

“Oh, right, heh heh, I forgot --”

Meshuggenah. You forget your keys again?”

“Yes. Yes I did. I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“I was awake. Come on, get in out of the rain.”

She held the door open and I came into the vestibule. The fly did too, of course.
She drew the door shut and turned to me.
“Look at you,” she said. “All wet. Why you didn’t take your umbrella?”

“I, uh, forgot.”

“Forgot your keys. Forgot your umbrella. You drunk?”

“Well, I’ve had a few, but I wouldn’t say I’m drunk --”

“Did you eat dinner?”

Dinner. No, I had forgotten all about that bacon-cheeseburger I had ordered and never gotten. And the french fries. And I was hungry, too.

“You didn’t eat, did you?” she said.

“No,” I confessed.

“What I’m gonna do with you?”

“I don’t know,” I confessed.

Suddenly she put her arms around my waist, and she looked up into my eyes.

“What I’m gonna do with you, Porter?”

“I -- um --”

“And me a happily married woman with two beautiful kids.”

“I -- uh --”

She drew herself closer to me, and laid her head against my chest. She had a good smell. She smelled like a warm Sunday in autumn, like roasted chestnuts, like laundry right after it’s come off the clothesline --

She looked up at me again.

“But I can’t help myself,” she said. “Jake works so hard all day in his cobbler shop, saving up his money so we can move out to a nice home in Long Island, he’s so tired at the end of the day all he wants to do is sit in his undershirt and watch Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton. I can’t blame him. I blame myself.”

“Don’t blame yourself --” I hesitated, because I wanted to address her by her first name, but I didn’t know what that was, and it seemed absurd to call her Mrs. Morgenstern under the circumstances, especially as I, despite my best intentions, was beginning to suffer an erection.

“Who I’m gonna blame then? You?”

“Sure,” I offered. “Blame me.”

“Your book,” she said. “They really gonna publish it?”

“Apparently,” I said.

“And here I never read even one of your poems.”

“You’re not missing much.”

“You’ll probably be moving out. You’ll be making good money. You won’t wanta stay in this dump and I don’t blame you.”

“Yes,” I said. “I might be leaving.”

“I knew you’d leave someday.”

“Well --” I said.

“Well what?”

Actually I had nothing in mind. I had only said “well” just to say something.

She continued to stare up into my eyes.

“Everybody leaves eventually,” I said.


“We all leave life eventually.”

“That’s true,” she said.

She continued to look into my eyes, as if she were looking for something.

“Y’know, Porter, for an American, you can be really depressing.”

“I know.”

“I like it though. It’s the poet in you.”

“Maybe,” I said. “Or maybe it’s just the depressed person in me.”

“We can’t stand here in the vestibule all night,” she said.


“Jake and the kids are sleeping. Sound asleep.”


There was a pause here.

“But still I guess we better not,” she said.

Even I could tell what she meant we’d better not do.

“No,” I said. “It’s probably better that we don’t.”

The fly buzzed around our heads.

Verkakte flies,” she said. “What a dump. It’s good you’ll be moving from here. Kiss me one time, you lug.”

What could I do?

I kissed her.

It lasted a minute or so, maybe longer. I know I shouldn’t have, even if I was only in someone else’s novel, but I couldn’t help myself, and I didn’t want to disappoint Mrs. Morgenstern.

Finally she pulled her face away from mine.

She was breathing heavily. I suppose I was too.

“Hoo boy,” she said.

She still had her arms around my waist. We were still standing in the vestibule, with its old wooden moldings, its cracked and stained ceramic-tiled floor, the worn rubber welcome mat.

“I think we better go up now,” she said.

“Yes, we’d better,” I said.

She let go of my waist, she opened the inner door and went through, and I followed her.

I followed her up the stairs, walking slowly, as I was now possessed of a full-fledged erection. She seemed to be wearing a nightgown under her robe, and threadbare corduroy slippers.

At the second floor we walked to my door, she took a big ring of keys out of her robe pocket, separated one from the rest, opened the door.

I went in, turned around, she was standing in the open doorway, still holding the keys.

“You want me to fix you some food?” she said. “A sandwich? Glass of milk?”

“No, please,” I said, even though I was terrifically hungry now.

She stood there looking at me.

She looked both ways up and down the hall, and then she stepped just inside the doorway.

“Them three times we made love, when Jake was at synagogue. They were the best, Porter. But I can’t do it no more. It ain’t right.”

“You’re right,” I said.

“You go on with your life. I’ll go one with mine.”

“Yes,” I said.

The fly buzzed around my ear. I brushed him away.

“I wish you the best of luck with your poetry. Someday I bet I see you on Jack Paar, Edward R. Murrow.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“I’ll see your picture on the back of a book. Your handsome face. I’ll think, ‘That’s Porter. I knew him.’ I’ll always have that.”

I didn’t know what to say to this. I said nothing.

Suddenly I remembered the money that the boy Mickey had given to me for Mrs. Morgenstern. I took the wad out of my inside jacket pocket.

“What’s that?” she said.

“I ran into your nephew, Mickey?”

“That hoodlum?”

“Yes. He asked me to give you this money. For helping him out with legal expenses.”

“It’s probably stolen.”

“Well, he asked me to give it to you,” I said.

“Okay, I’ll take it.”

She took the roll, and without counting it she put it in the pocket of her old bathrobe. Then she looked at me.
“I want to kiss you again,” she said, “but I think maybe I shouldn’t.”

She glanced down at the bulge in my pants.

“We probably shouldn’t,” I said.

“Goodnight, Porter.”

I wished I knew her first name, but I didn’t, so I simply said goodnight.

She turned and walked off back towards her own apartment. I could hear her lightly jangling the set of keys, not continuously, but with a pause of a second or so between each jangle.

I closed the door.

“Idiot,” said the fly. I hadn’t realized it, but he was sitting in my ear again. “Idiot. You coulda had her, man. She was dying for it.”

I felt for the wall switch, found it, turned on the overhead light.

“Idiot,” repeated the fly.

“Look, just shut up, okay?” I said.

“Who the hell you talking to, Porter?”

I turned around.

It was Nicky, sitting at my kitchen table, his feet up on the table, on my papers, on Porter’s papers anyway. He lit a cigarette with his lighter.

He gestured to a jelly glass and an almost-empty bottle of Early Times bourbon on the table.

“Found your hooch under the sink. Hope you don’t mind I helped myself. Get yourself a glass. Porter.”

(Continued here, as is only meet and just.)

(Kindly refer to the right hand side of this page for a current listing of links to all other electronically-accessible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode sponsored in part by Uneeda Crackers™. “Feeling the economic pinch this holiday season? The kids will love an economical lunch of Uneeda Crackers™ and store-brand peanut butter -- delicious and nutritious!”)

Friday, December 10, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 228: gangleader

A rainy summer’s night in 1957 finds our hero Arnold Schnabel near the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery (with his friend, a talking fly) trying to escape his exile in the sadly obscure novel Ye Cannot Quench, by Gertrude Evans (author of over forty other books, including such “cult classics” as Unsteady as She Goes; The Importunate Pigeon; Hashish Wednesday; and Tales of Rich Old Women).

(Click here to read our previous episode; those looking for a new obsession may go here to return to that faraway beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume memoir. “Arnold Schnabel is more than an author, a poet, a memoirist -- he is indeed a way of life.” -- Harold Bloom, in The Saturday Evening Post.)

I felt the fly land on the porch of my ear.

“Okay,” I said.

I walked over to the curb, made a little jump to clear the water flowing in the gutter.

“Oh, but by the way, pal.”


“What about beer?”

“Oh. Well, I might have some in the ice box --”


“Well, like I said --” I felt a slight urge to insert a personal name here, but I realized that I didn’t know the fly’s name, if he even had a name -- “uh, as I said, I’m not really planning on staying long.”

“If all goes well.”


We were standing at the entrance door of the tenement now. The fly flew out of my ear and hovered in front of my face.

“Your little plan to write a new plot twist in the picaresque novel of your life.”

“Yes,” I said.

The fly was staying close to the door, protected from the rain by the concrete overhang of the entrance.

“Okay, fine,” he said. “but here’s the thing: if your plan don’t work we’re gonna want beer. We’re definitely gonna need beer. So why not go pick up some now, round the corner. Just in case, like.”

“I don’t know.”

“What don’t you know?”

“It seems -- self-defeating somehow. As if I’m expecting to fail.”

“It is not self-defeating just to cover your bases, pal. That’s just common fucking sense.”

“But -- why can’t we just go out for beer, you know --”

“After you fail.”

“Well, I was going to say ‘if I do fail’.”

“Oh. Sure, we can do that. We can definitely do that. But. And hear me out now. But -- if we take just two minutes now to pick up a couple, three quarts -- two minutes mind you, maybe less -- just right round the corner there at that Bob’s Bowery Bar -- then -- then, my friend, we got something to drink while you’re writing.”

I didn’t say anything to this. The fly kept staring at me with his ten thousand anxious little eyes.

“I thought writers liked to drink. Lubricates the creative machinery. Helps to flush up that sometimes elusive whaddyacallit, le mot juste.”

He was flying up and down, about six inches up, six inches down, up, down, but always right in front of my face, and being careful to keep out of the rain, which by the way was still falling all over me.

“I think that’s what it’s called,” he said. “Flaubert. Le mot juste? Maybe I ain’t pronouncing it right.”

“You’re not going to let this go, are you?” I said.

“Hey, just say the word and I never mention it again.”

Yeah, sure, I thought.

“Look,” I said. I put my hand on the door knob, turned it. “I really just want to get this over with, okay? If my plan doesn’t work, then we can go around the corner and pick up a quart or two.”

“Okay, fine. I’m only thinking about you, pal, trying to save you the extra trouble and all --”

“No trouble for me,” I said.

The door was locked of course, and all my repeated turnings of the knob weren’t going to unlock it.

“Oh. Sure,” said the fly. “No trouble for you. But let me ask you something, what about me? Sittin’ around with not a tiny drop of beer to wet my lips with while his nibs merrily scribbles away. Writing your deathless literature. I guess I don’t count.”

“Of course you count,” I said.

I was still fiddling with the door knob, don’t ask me why.

“You gotta use your key, dummy,” said the fly.

“Oh, right.”

“But then what do I know.”

I started to pat my pockets, looking for my keys.

“I’m just a fucking fly, after all,” said the fly.

“Look, don’t say that,” I said. “It’s just --”

“Just what?”

“It’s just that --

“Hey, buddy, poet boy.”

I turned around. It was that John Saxon-looking kid from that other gang, the Cardigans. He was standing there in his pale blue cardigan, holding an umbrella up against the rain, and on the sidewalk behind him and around him was the rest of the gang with their umbrellas, including the little guy in the wheelchair.

“Oh,” I said. “Hi.”

“Who was you talking to? I don’t see nobody else here.”

“Just myself,” I said.

“Talking to yourself. You drunk?”

“He’s fucking drunk,” said the wheelchair kid.

“Well, I’ve had a few drinks,” I said. “Heh heh.”

The gangleader kid had been smoking a cigarette, but now he flicked it down toward my feet.

“Goin’ home now, huh?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“It’s still early.”

“Well, you know, gotta get up early.”

“Write your poems, huh?”

“Heh heh, yeah, you know how it is.”

“No, how is it?”

“Um, the early bird catches the, uh, the poetic worm?”


“Pardon me?”

“You’re a fucking poet,” he said. “What, you gonna get up early like some working stiff, write your poetry like it’s some goddam office job you got?”

“Well, uh, I find that if I work on a regular schedule, that, uh, this actually frees up my, um, my creative process --”

“Bullshit. To be a poet you got to experience life. Live life to the fucking fullest. Experience the depths and heights of human existence.”

“Well -- I do that too, but, still, I find that --”

“Where’s your two girl friends?”

“Oh, Pat and Carlotta?”

“Them two stuck-up bitches.”

“Oh, they decided to stay out for a while, have a bite to --”

“They ditched ya, huh?”

“Well, no, I just wanted to, you know, go home --”

“Why don’t you come have a drink with us?”

“Right now?”

“Right now.”

“Well, maybe tomorrow night --”

“Maybe tomorrow never comes.”

“That’s, uh, always a possibility I suppose --”

“You said you’d tell me about bullfighting.”

“Right,” I said. “And I will. I will. Maybe we can meet for lunch sometime --”

“Maybe we can meet now.”

“But I really do have to get up early. I’m meeting my editor to work on my book.”

“Ha,” said the fly.

“What was that,” said the kid.

“What?” I said.

“It sounded like that fly flying around your head said ha.”

“Well, I doubt that,” I said.

“Ha ha,” said the fly.

“There it goes again,” said the kid.

“Yeah, I heard it too,” said the wheelchair kid, who had rolled up right next to the gangleader kid.

“Yeah, me too,” said the kid who looked like Russ Tamblyn.

“So also I,” said the little kid with glasses, the intellectual one. I hadn’t noticed it before, probably because of the glasses, but he looked kind of like Sal Mineo.

“Ha ha ha,” said the fly.

“I heard that,” said another kid, who looked like Troy Donahue.

“It’s just a fly making noises,” I said.

“No fly makes a laughin’ noise like that,” said the boss kid. What was his name? Jerry?

“Ha ha fuckin’ ha,” said the fly.

The leader stepped back one step.

“Jesus Christ,” he said. “Dizzy, gimme the gat.”

“Sure thing, Terry,” said the crippled kid.

The little crippled guy reached under the crocheted cushion he was sitting on and brought out a revolver.

“What’re you starin’ at, poet boy?” he said.

“Well, nothing --”

“You’re thinking this must not be very comfortable, me sitting on this gat.”

“Well, I -- uh --”

“Ever occur to you maybe I got no feeling in my ass?”

“Oh, sorry --”

“Just don’t stare. Maybe someday you’ll be in a wheelchair. Like maybe someday very soon.”

He pointed the gun at me.

“Give me the goddam gat, Dizzy,” said the gangleader kid.

“Sure, Terry.”

Yes, Terry, that was the one kid’s name, not Jerry.

Terry took the pistol from the crippled kid, and, awkwardly balancing the shaft of his umbrella between his chin and his shoulder, he checked to see that the gun was loaded, spinning the cylinder.

“Um, Terry?” I said.


“You’re not going to shoot that gun, are you?”

“I’m gonna shoot that fucking fly,” he said. He was holding his umbrella in his left hand now, and wielding the pistol in his right.

“But, Terry, it’s just a fly.”

Suddenly the fly dived at Terry’s face, and he stumbled backwards, swatting in front of his face with the gun.

“Jesus Christ!” he shouted.

“Careful with the gat, Terry,” said the crippled kid, Dizzy I guess his name was.

“Motherfucker!” Terry was rubbing his eye with the back of the hand that held the gun. “Little fucker run straight in my eye.”

“Self-preservation is the first instinct of every species,” said the Sal Mineo kid.

“Shut the fuck up, Four-Eyes,” said Terry. “Fuck.”

He continued to rub his eye.

“Careful with the gat,” said the Troy Donahue kid.

“I’m gonna kill that fucking thing,” said Terry.

“That might prove rather hard to do,” said Four-Eyes.

“I think he fucking flew away, Terry,” said Dizzy.

“Hey, guys,” said the Russ Tamblyn kid.

“Where is the little bastard?” said Terry, blinking broadly. “I’ll murder him.”

“I believe he has absconded,” said Four-Eyes.

“Terry,” said the Russ Tamblyn kid.

“What?” said Terry. “What?”

“The fuzz is comin’. Down Bleecker.”

True enough, a police car was cruising down the street in our direction.

“Shit,” said Terry. “Here, Dizzy, stash the gat.”

Dizzy took the pistol and stuck it under his seat cushion.

“Let’s blow,” said Terry. He pointed finger at me. “You,” he said.


You oughta watch out what kinda flies you hang out with.”

Without another word the gang took off through the rain, marching off at double-time around the corner, beneath their umbrellas, Four-Eyes pushing Dizzy’s chair at the rear of the group and making the turn on one wheel.

I started to turn around toward the door again, but the cop car drew up and stopped. There were two policemen in it. The one in the driver’s seat rolled down his window.

“Hey, buddy, was them kids bothering you?”

“Not really,” I said.

“You were lucky. You live here?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let’s go after them punks, Pat,” said the other cop.

“Okay, Mike,” said the driver. To me he said, “All right then. Good night, sir.”

“Good night.”

I turned around, put my hand in my pocket for my keys.

I heard the car take off behind me.

“You believe that kid, throwin’ down on me like that?” said the fly. He was back, buzzing in front of my face again. “Little punk.”

I checked my other side jeans pocket.

“Hey, pal, you see me fly into that punk’s eye. Ha ha. I showed him, the little --”

“Oh, shit,” I said.

“What? What’s the matter now?” said the fly.

With a sinking heart I checked the pockets of my seersucker.

“What is it?”

“My keys,” I said.

“Your keys.”

“I can’t find them. I lost my keys.”

“You lost your keys?”

“What did I just say?”

“Hey, don’t get testy, pal. I ain’t the one who lost them.”

“I know you didn’t. I lost them. Christ.”

“Oh. Wait. Pal.”


“You didn’t lose them.”

“I didn’t?”

“No -- remember, back in your flat, I said, ‘You got your keys?’. And you says, ‘Oh, they’re in the saucer on the little table next to the door.’ I remember distinctly you saying that. ‘Saucer on the little table.’ But you never grabbed them. I remember now. You just went right out past them.”

“Well why didn’t you say something?”

“Why didn’t I say something? ‘Cause I didn’t really notice it. At the time.”


“Look, buzz the lady.”

“The lady?”

“Yeah. Mrs. -- what -- the one you been schtupping apparently --”

“Mrs. Morgenstern?”

“Yeah, buzz her.”

“You think I should?”

“Oh, no, just stand out here in the rain all night. What the --”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll buzz her.”

To the right of the door there was a double row of buzzers with hand-written name-cards in metal slots, and, sure enough, one of them said “Morgenstern”.

I pressed the button.

(Continued here, despite the dictates of common sense.)

(Please turn to the right hand side of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Be sure to tune in to “An Arnold Schnabel Christmas” next Friday at 9 PM (EST), with your host John Cameron Swayze, starring Art Carney as Arnold Schnabel, and featuring the voice of Mickey Rooney as “the fly”; teleplay by Rod Serling; musical numbers by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; featuring the June Taylor Dancers and the Mabel Beaton Marionettes; presented by Bell of Pennsylvania for the DuMont Television Network.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 227: haunted

It’s been a long day’s journey into God only knows what kind of dark night of the soul for our hero Arnold Schnabel, transformed by the Evil Trickster into a laughably bad but devilishly handsome poet named Porter Walker, the second male lead of Ye Cannot Quench, a sadly long-deleted novel of 1950s New York City by Gertrude Evans (the author of over fifty other books, including The Tacky Shop Assistant; The Buck Does Not Stop Here; A Penny For My Thoughts: Essays on Literature and Culture; and The Noisy Neighbor and Other Stories).

(Go here to read our previous chapter; curious students of abnormal psychology may click here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 62-volume memoir, “The ne plus ultra of American literature; read Schnabel and you can just forget about Melville and Whitman and Hawthorne and the rest of those tired old bore-asses.” -- Harold Bloom, in Criterion.)

“So, uh, Mickey –” I started to say, nervously, but he interrupted me.

“What’dja say your name was, pal?”

“I don’t think I ever did,” I said, “but it’s Arnold. No, I mean Porter.”

“Arnold or Porter, huh?” He kept his motorcycle-booted foot on the gas pedal, and I watched the silvery speedometer arrow inexorably rising. “So which is it, Arnold or Porter?”

“Porter,” I said. “Porter Walker. Arnold is just – oh, forget it – Porter, Porter Walker.”

“Porter Walker?” said the Richard Jaeckel guy in the back seat. He was shouting, but then the jazz music on the radio was very loud. “Sounds like a fag name to me.”

“You got no room to maneuver when it comes to faggy names, Sidney,” said Mickey.

“Sid!” said Sidney. “My name is Sid! Sid!”

“Sidney,” said the Vic Morrow guy. “That is kind of a fag name, ain’t it?”

“Oh, and like Howard ain’t a fag name neither?” said Sidney.

Howie!” said Howard, “You know I don’t like bein’ called Howard. Howie, ya little asswipe!”

“You both got fag names,” said the Timothy Carey guy. “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha –”

“Shut the fuck up, Herschel,” said Mickey.

“Herschel’s a fag name,” said Sidney.

“Alla yez, shut the fuck up! Jesus Christ!” said Mickey.

He was doing at least sixty now, and he’d just blown through another red light. Fortunately there hadn’t been any other traffic on the street. Not yet, anyway.

“Ya see what I got to deal with,” said Mickey, turning to look at me as the car flew along the rainy street. “Buncha morons. Almost enough to make me wish I hadn’t dropped out of high school. So, ‘Porter’ –”

“Fag name,” said Sidney.

“Porter,” continued Mickey, “you on the run?”

“Pardon me?”

“You on the lamski?”


“From the cops. Is that why you got two different names?”

“No,” I said. “No. No.”

“You AWOL from the service?”


“You can tell us. We ain’t gonna drop a dime on ya.”

“I’m not,” I said. “I’m not on the, uh –”


“Yes,” I said. “That. I’m not on the run.”

“Then why you got two different names?”

The car was up to seventy miles an hour now. I had one hand on the dashboard, another one gripping the rounded edge of my leather-upholstered seat.

Mickey had been watching the road but now he turned to look at me.

“You’re sweating, Porter. This car’s got air-conditioning, y’know. You want me to put the air-conditioning on?”


“Air-conditioning. Ya want it on so you ain’t spritzin’ all over?”

“Um, listen, Mickey, I don’t care, but, look, do you think you could slow down?”

“I’m only doin’, what, seventy-two, no, seventy-three now --”

“Mickey, you’re going to get stopped by a cop.”

“No I ain’t. Not in this jalopy, baby. You see this speedometer? Goes up to one-forty. How much you wanta bet I can’t push it to one-fifty?”

“Listen, I’m sure you probably can, Mickey, but –”

“But what?”

“I don’t want to die.”


The arrow now was approaching the number 80 on the dial.

The stoplight down the block had just turned red. Was this crazy kid going to run it? Was he just going to keep his foot on the gas pedal until we went soaring off into the middle of the East River?

Suddenly he switched his foot to the brake, miraculously the car decelerated and by the time we got to the red light the car stopped without even a mild jolt.

“Jesus Christ,” muttered the fly in my ear.

“What?” said Mickey.

“Jesus Christ,” I said.

The guys in back all burst out laughing.

“You all right now?” said Mickey.

“Yes,” I said. I took my one hand off the dashboard and the other one off the edge of the seat and I rubbed my wet palms on my jeans. “Thank you.”

“Here,” said Mickey, and he flicked a switch on the dashboard. Cool air flowed out from vents in the footspace. “That better?”

“Yes,” I said.

“It’s okay, y’know,” he said. “Whatever you’re on the run from. We don’t give a shit.”

“I’m not on the run.”

“Then why do you look hunted?”

“I do?”


“Haunted he looks,” said Herschel. “Haunted like.”

“He does look kinda haunted,” said Sidney. “But hunted, too.”

“Yeah,” said Howard. “Kinda like a man caught in a whirlpool of deadly obsession. Hunted. Haunted.”

The light had changed, but instead of taking off again Mickey stared at me.

“So, Porter,” he said. “You hunted, or haunted, or both?”

“Both I suppose,” I said. We couldn’t be far from my building now. A couple more minutes of this.

“So, what do you do, exactly,” said Mickey. “For like a living?”

“I’m a railroad brakeman. No I’m not, I was a cab driver, but I lost my job. But I’m a – oh, forget it.”

“No, spill.”

He put his foot on the accelerator, crossed the intersection, but now he drove at a reasonable speed, or anyway a more reasonable speed.

“It’s embarrassing,” I said.


“I’m a poet.”.

“No kidding.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I mean, no, I’m not kidding.”

“Poets is fags,” said Sidney.

“Shaddap, Sidney,” said Mickey. He turned to me again. “A poet, huh?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Could you, like, recite a poem for us?”

“I don’t have any poems on me at the moment.”

“Don’t you got none memorized?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Give us a poem, daddy-o,” said Herschel.

“Yeah, give us a fucking poem,” said Sidney.

“I don’t wanta hear no fucking poem,” said Howard.

“Give us a poem,” said Mickey. “Otherwise I run this baby up to one-fifty.”

“Jesus Christ,” whispered the fly in my ear, “give him a goddam poem!”

“Okay,” I said.

I tried to draw inspiration from the soaring jazz music on the radio. I took a deep breath, and spoke:

Driving through night-time streets of doom
Through this warm and dirty rain
Past buildings fraught with gloom
In a car more powerful than pain,
Driving through a life filled with death
With a brain filled with madness
Through a world filled with the breath
Of the forgotten and the hopeless,
I drive through a narrow tunnel reeking
Of the stale odor of human piss,
Racing into a future I am not seeking
Out of a past that no longer exists;
To return to my home was all that I wanted
But instead I drive on: haunted, hunted.

I fell silent. The poem was as finished as it was ever going to be.

The jazz music played on. The windshield wipers wiped, not in time to the music.

No one said anything. We drove on down the rainy empty street, this street that had been filled with human beings both on foot and in motor vehicles when I walked along it earlier today, what seemed like a year ago.

“Sorry,” I said.

“Hey, we asked for it,” said Mickey. He stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray. “So, Porter,” he continued, “how well you know my aunt, Mrs. Morgenstern?”

From what I had picked up from Carlotta’s and Pat’s insinuations I was afraid I might know that lady quite well indeed, but I decided on the spur of the moment to play my cards close to the vest.

“Oh, you know,” I said, “just sort of, uh, she lives down the hall, and, uh, she lets me use her phone, and – um –”

“So you know her pretty well.”

“Well, uh, um –”

“You’re friendly with her?”



“Uh, yes, yes, I’m, uh –”


“Yes,” I said.

“Good. I want for you to give her something for me.”

“Um. Okay.”

He reached inside his jacket and brought out a wad of cash folded into a rubber band.

“Here, take this.”

What could I do? I took it.

“There’s two hundred fifty bucks there. I want you to give it to her and tell her her nephew Mickey says thanks for helpin’ me out with my lawyer fee.”


“I appreciate it, buddy.”

“You’re welcome.”

“You better put it away now.”


I put the wad into the inside pocket of my seersucker.

“Well, here we are,” he said.

He pulled the car up to the curb on the left.

I didn’t recognize it at first, but it was the entrance to my building, between the grocery and the shoe-repair shop.

“That’s my uncle’s shoe-repair shop,” said Mickey. “You believe that guy, leaning over a bench, fixin’ shoes all day? Not for me, pal. Coupla more good scores and I’m gonna set myself up in my own business. Whatta ya think of that?”

“That’s good,” I said. I really just wanted to get out of the car. “A business is good.”

“I’m thinkin’ reefer.”


“Yeah. Sellin’ reefer. Always gonna be a market for reefer, right? And the beauty of it is, because it’s illegal I don’t gotta pay no taxes. Then with my profits I start buyin’ property. This shitty neighborhood, someday, who knows, it might be like fuckin’ Park Avenue, fuckin’ Sutton Place. Fuckin’ stockbrokers livin’ here. So I buy now while it’s still a slum and then by the time the neighborhood changes I’m a goddam millionaire.”

“Well, that’s uh –”

“Okay, see ya later, Porter.”

I tentatively held out my hand, but he kept both hands on the steering wheel. He was staring straight ahead into the rainy street, the windshield wiper wiping, the jazz music playing.

“Well, good night,” I said. “Thanks for the ride.”

Still staring straight ahead he took a pack of Camels out of the side pocket of his red windbreaker.

“Yeah, sure,” he said. He popped a cigarette into his mouth. “Anytime.”

He pocketed his cigarettes, then punched in the dashboard cigarette lighter.

I opened my door, got out of the car and into the rain.

“Leave the door open, fag,” said Howard. He pushed the back of the front passenger seat forward, climbed out, then got in the front seat. “Awright, you can close it now,” he said.

I closed the door, and Mickey pulled the car out, making a right turn on the Bowery.

I was alone again, in the misty rain, breathing in that thick slum air.

“C’mon pal, let’s get in out of this rain.”

I was almost alone.

(Continued here, and to the crack of doom and possibly beyond.)

(Kindly look to the right hand side of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to innumerable other chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Make sure to pick up as many copies as you can of “A Schnabel For All Seasons: The Wit and Wisdom of Arnold Schnabel”, edited by Bennett Cerf, with an introduction by Oscar Levant; a Gold Medal Original Permabook, $.75; the perfect stocking-stuffer for the more literate of your familial and social circle; available at better drug stores and bus stations everywhere.)