Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy New Year from Arnold Schnabel

By special request we present again this classic Arnold Schnabel sonnet, dating from that dour period immediately preceding Arnold’s complete mental breakdown, originally published in the
Olney Times for January 4, 1963; two weeks later he 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 the 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 for the first time since 1963 with the 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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

"The Martian Invasion Caper"

I was cleaning the .45 when Rudy came back into the room with a worried look on his face.

"You hear the news?" he said. "The goddam Martians have invaded, over in Jersey."

"No kidding?" I said. "What about the job? We still on for tonight?"

"Sure," he said. "Martian invasion or no Martian invasion, the job is on."

The Martian Invasion Caper, by Horace P. Sternwall, serialized in Fantastic Crime Stories, Jan.-Feb.-March, 1940 {never published in book form}.

(Scroll down the right-hand side of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of various other unjustifiably-obscure classics from the prolific Royal portable of Horace P. Sternwall. “Why Sternwall has not yet been given the full-blown Library of America treatment is a mystery to me. I can't believe that not a single one of his books is currently in print. It's a goddam disgrace.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Charlie Rose Show.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"They Called Her Clementine"

I liked her face; it was a sweet, open face, a face that seemed to say springtime and flowers and happiness; oh, how wrong I was.

They Called Her Clementine, Horace P. Sternwall, a Gold Medal paperback original, 1949.

"My Friend the .45"

‎"He had a face that looked like it had been run over by a truck a few times; I turned away but then he spoke, the face spoke: "Hey, buddy, no disrespect, can I ask ya a question?"

My Friend the .45, by Horace P. Sternwall, a Behemoth Books paperback original; 1952

"Princess of the Bowery"

"She had a face that reminded me of my mother's face in the casket at the funeral home: painted, hard, and dead, with just the ghost of a smile; I decided to buy her a drink."

Princess of the Bowery, by Horace P. Sternwall, an Ace paperback original; 1954.

Monday, December 26, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 282: hammered

Let’s return to that fog-shrouded island of lost souls and to a low dockside tavern called The Dead Man, amongst the dubious denizens of which our memoirist Arnold Schnabel has recognized his old nemesis the prince of darkness...

(Please click here to refresh your memory of our immediately preceding episode; go here to return to the far-off misty beginnings of this 79-volume Gold View Award©-winning masterpiece.)

“Oftentimes at night when I lie in bed plagued with thoughts of the ineffable meaninglessness of existence I switch on the lamp, pick up the volume of Arnold Schnabel from my bed table (for there is always such a volume there), open it, read a paragraph or two, perhaps a page, and soon enough and invariably a great feeling of peace and beauty suffuses my personal sense of being.” -- Harold Bloom, on
The Merv Griffin Show.

“Well, well, well,” he said. “If it isn’t my old bosom pal Arnold Schnabel. And, oh, let me just flick through my mental Rolodex.” By now he was standing right in front of us, smiling broadly as he spoke, which when you think about it is not only hard to do but somewhat frightening even if it is sincere, as I’m sure it wasn’t in this case. “Mister,” he said, addressing Mr. Jones, “Mister --”

“Go on,” said Mr. Jones, “I can tell you almost have it.”

“Ah, that crusty wit! Mr. Jones, of course! I don’t think we’ve ever been introduced. Lucky is my name.”

“I’ve seen you around town,” said Mr. Jones. Neither the little old man nor the tall handsome devil made the slightest move to shake the other’s hand.

“As have I seen you,” said Lucky. “Making your rounds of the bars of old Cape May.”

“And as I have noticed you as well in those selfsame bars, in your elegant suits and with your haughty demeanor. And I’ve seen plenty other fancy Dans like you in my long life. Guys who think their shit don’t stink like everybody else’s. You don’t impress me. But on the other hand I gotta hand it to ya for the way you handled that delinquent Teddy Boy. Not that me and Arnie needed help, mind you.”

“Oh, did you not?” said Lucky.

“No,” said Mr. Jones. “My pal Arnie here already knocked the little bastard down for the ten-count once already, and I had my hand all the time on this little friend in my pocket.” And saying this Mr. Jones brought his right hand out from his suit-jacket pocket, and with it Sid’s switchblade, the blade of which flicked out, its tip pointed toward Lucky’s throat. “But thanks, anyway, pal.”

“Tough old fellow, aren’t you?” said Lucky.

“Tough enough to live eighty-seven years,” said Mr. Jones.

He folded up the knife and dropped it back into his jacket pocket.

“You had a good long run, didn’t you?” said Lucky. “But now, alas, death has finally caught up with you as it must with all men, hasn’t it.”

“Fuck death,” said Mr. Jones. “Me and Arnie are on our way back, buddy.”

“Your way back? Back to where?”

“Back to that green and pleasant land of the living,” said Mr. Jones. “Soon as we have another refreshment or two that is.”

“But you can’t do that,” said Lucky.

“What, have another drink or two?”

“No,” said Lucky. “You can’t return to the land of the living. Once you have passed over to what I think Shakespeare called --”

“Fuck Shakespeare,” said Mr. Jones, “’Cause we’re goin’ back.”

“But that would be, oh, how shall I put it, heh heh, highly irregular,” said Lucky.

“Who gives a shit?” said Mr. Jones, “From what I’ve seen the afterlife is at least as irregular as life is, maybe even more so.”

“But you can’t,” said Lucky, “you can’t just, you know --”

“Oh yes we can,” said Mr. Jones. “We can because we got the okay from St. Peter himself.”

“From Peter?”

“Himself,” said Mr. Jones.

“That jumped-up fisherman.”

“I got nothing against fishermen, per se, but I confess I did meself find him to be a bit of an asshole,” said Mr. Jones. “But Arnie here got through his hard bark.”

“Oh. Did you, Arnold?” said Lucky.

“Pardon me?”

Once again my attention had wandered. There was a blond woman sitting on the barstool closest to Mr. Jones, and she had on a rather low-cut sparkly red dress which revealed much of her large bosom. Her face was almost as frightening as Lucky’s; it wasn’t so much that she was ugly, although she wasn’t exactly pretty, it was just something about the way she was grimacing at the tall and handsome devil as if she were a chained dog and he was a bowl of fresh chopped meat just out of her reach. Anyway, not to put too fine a point on it, despite myself I had been staring at her breasts and not paying close attention to the conversation between Mr. Jones and Lucky (and it has only been through the deepest concentration and putting myself into a sort of hypnotic trance with the aid of a rather strong marijuana cigarette that I have been able to bring back from oblivion and transcribe this aforementioned dialogue, which, now that I think of it, may bear little resemblance to what was actually said, but no matter, let’s move on).

“I said,” said Lucky, “’Did you?’”

“I’m sorry,” I said. Another distraction was the loud music. I glanced over at the bandstand, and Gabriel -- who was not playing his trumpet at the moment, while the organist played a solo -- gave me a wave of recognition and greeting. I turned back to Lucky. “Did I what?”

“Something about having some sort of influence on St. Peter.”

“Oh, right,” I said. “Yeah. You see, I had come back here --”

“To the nether world,” butted in Finch, who I think had been looking for an opportunity to get into the picture.

“Yes,” I said, “to bring back Mr. Jones.” I was really getting tired of explaining all this to everyone. This was proving to be another way death was like life. All this tedious repetition. I almost wished I had a card I could hand out that would briefly summarize the situation and save me the trouble. “So, anyway,” I went on, doggedly, “I talked it over with him --”

“With St. Peter,” said Lucky.

“Yes,” I said.

“You’re saying you talked it over with St. Peter.”

“Yes --”

“And Peter actually listened to you?”

“Yeah, I just explained to him that --”

“St. Peter actually listened to what someone like you had to say.”

“Hey. No need to take that tone, buddy,” said Mr. Jones.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said Lucky. “I’m just surprised, that’s all. Surprised, and -- I must confess -- a little disappointed. Dismayed. Appalled.”

“What the fuck,” said Mr. Jones.

“There used to be some standards up there,” said Lucky.

“Now, wait a minute, you, you popinjay --” said Mr. Jones.

“I think all the gentleman is saying,” said Finch, “is that it used to be notoriously hard to sway St. Peter one way or the other, and --”

“I don’t remember asking you for your two cents,” said Lucky.

“Sorry,” said Finch. “My name is Finch, by the way,” and he extended his little cold fish of a hand, which Lucky pointedly ignored.

“St. Peter’s a stuck-up jackass,” spoke the woman sitting next to Mr. Jones. “I never done nothing wrong to nobody my whole life and he wouldn’t let me through the damn door. Wouldn’t even let me up the steps to the porch. Just waved me away like I was a beggar with leprosy and told me to get back down the hill and don’t come back.”

“Sounds like good old St. Peter,” said Finch, flexing the fingers of his right hand as if that were the reason he had raised it up in the first place, to get the kinks out from the strain of lifting his beer glass. “Why, when I tried to walk up the hill he actually came down from the porch and began throwing pebbles down at me --”

“Shut up, Finch,” said the woman. “No one cared what you had to say when you was alive and they certainly don’t give a flying fuck now that you’re dead.”

“Hey, I like your style, lady,” said Mr. Jones.

“You’re pretty cute too for an old fart,” said the lady. “But not as cute as tall dark and handsome here in the white suit. What was your handle again, big boy?”

“Oh, just call me Lucky.”

“And are you lucky?”

“Everyone always asks me that.”

“Answer the question, bucko.”

“I will not answer it.”

“That means you ain’t been so lucky.”

“No, it doesn’t. It simply means that I choose not to speak of myself and my personal affairs or indeed of anything at all to every random person I run into the way you Americans typically do.”

“Don’t you insult my country you goddam foreigner.”

“May I ask what country you hail from, sir,” butted in Finch again. “I cannot quite place your accent, which is something many people say of me, which I think is the result of --”

“Shut the fuck up, Finch,” said the woman. “Stop buttin’ in and I ain’t gonna tell ya again.”

“But you’ve been telling me that for years, Molly,” said Finch. “Decades even.”

“Keep it up, marshmallow man, I’ll poke your eye out with a hatpin and don’t think I won’t.”

“Hey, Finch!” The bartender yelled and we all turned, all except for Lucky, who was already facing toward the bar. “I got two I.W. Harper Manhattans here, plus a glass of Rheingold. You said you was buying. You owe me four-twenty-five.”

“Oh,” said Finch. “Yes. Of course. How much was that again?”

Finch had his wallet in his hand, but it seemed that he was having trouble getting it open.

“You heard me,” said the bartender. “Four dollars and twenty-five cents. Get it up.”

“Excuse me,” said Lucky. “Bartender, let me get that.”

He reached into his trousers pocket and brought out a roll of bills folded into a gold money-clip. He peeled off a twenty and tossed it onto the bar.

“I’ll take a Manhattan, too,” he said. “The same way.”

“Hey, what about me, big shot,” said the woman, Molly I gathered her name was.

“What? Oh, all right,” said Lucky, “one for the, uh, charming young lady as well.”

“Make mine a Sidecar then, Jack,” said Molly, “with sugar on the rim, and use Rémy Martin, not that Christian Brothers swill.”

Without a word the bartender went away, presumably to the part of the bar where he mixed the cocktails.

“Um, uh,” said Finch.

“What?” said Lucky. He was flipping through his roll of bills with his thumb. I couldn’t help but notice that they all seemed to be twenties and fifties. “Speak up, man.”

“Um, uh, thank you,” said Finch, “for the, the beer --”

“You’re welcome,” said Lucky. He put the roll of bills back into his pocket.

“Ha ha. Dodged the bullet, didn’t ya, Finchie,” said Molly.

“I don’t know what you mean,” said Finch.

“I mean you got out of buying a round, cheapskate.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“Look at this bum,” said Molly. “I’ve seen him nurse a glass of flat beer for two hours, hoping some damn fool will include him in a round, and as soon as somebody does include him then all of a sudden he switches to top-shelf Manhattans and Martinis and Old Fashioneds, don’t ya, Finchie.”

“Now that’s not true, Molly, why --”

He had been gripping his wallet throughout all of this, but now he shoved it back safely inside his jacket.

“So, Arnold,” said Lucky.

He had stopped smiling for a while there but now he was smiling again.

“Yes?” I said.

“You tricked me a couple of times before, didn’t you?”

“Um,” I said.

“Yes, you did,” he said. “I fully admit it.”

“Aw,” said the woman Molly. “He twicked the big tall man. Naughty boy!”

“Miss,” said Lucky, “do you mind? I’m trying to have a conversation with my friend Arnold here.”

“What’re you, a fairy? You got me sitting here on this stool and you’d rather talk to this jerk wearing Bermuda shorts and a polo shirt and Keds? What do you think this dive is, pal?” she said, addressing me now. “A beach bar down at Miami Beach, or Key West maybe?”

I had suddenly realized that I had a fresh Manhattan sitting there untouched, and had just taken a good gulp of it.

“Well, uh,” I said -- the Manhattan tasted better than the previous one had. The I.W. Harper really did seem to make a difference -- “in fact I did just come from a beach resort, and so --”

“As I said, Arnold,” said Lucky, more loudly now, “I admit you tricked me a couple of times, but now --”

“Uh,” I said.


“It was actually more than a couple of times,” I said.

“Don’t please let’s quibble.”

“Well, I’m only saying.”

I took another sip, the whiskey and vermouth seemed to help me remember, the music helped me remember, Gabriel was blowing his horn again while the girl sang into the microphone, the song was “Don’t Explain”.

“It was more like three, no, four times really,” I said. “There was that one time in the men’s room at the Prince Edward Room at the Chalfonte. Then there was that time late at night in the street in Cape May, where was it, on Hughes Street --”

“Okay, that’s two,” said Lucky, “let’s move on.”

“Then last night when I was trapped in Miss Evans’s novel I tricked you again, remember? In my little apartment on the Bowery?”

“That one didn’t count. It was a fictional universe --”

“Well, I think it counts,” I said, “and then earlier today I tricked you again at the Pilot House, with Miss Evans --”

“That also hardly counted as ‘tricking’ me. I merely chose not to make a move then, in front of so many witnesses --”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Now I think you’re the one who’s quibbling.”

“Ha! Tell him, Arnold!” said Mr. Jones.

“Yeah, let him have it both barrels, beach boy,” said the woman.

“Heh heh,” Finch laughed in a perhaps not completely mirthless way.

“So,” I said, “just saying, I tricked you at least four times.”

For once Lucky was at a loss for words, and he wasn’t smiling any more.

“Hey, I got your drinks here.”

It was the bartender. He laid the drinks down.

“I.W. Harper Manhattan,” he said. “Rémy Martin Sidecar. Plus the previous round. That makes it --”

“Just take it out of the twenty there,” said Lucky. “In fact, here.” He took out his roll of money again and peeled off another twenty, threw it down, peeled off one more, threw that one down. “Keep ‘em comin’,” he said.

“What,” said the bartender. “For everybody? Even Finch and Molly?”

“Sure,” said Lucky, “why not.”

Suddenly Finch lifted his previously untouched glass of beer and drank it in one go.

“As long as you’re here, Jack,” he said, putting the empty glass down, “I suppose I’m ready.”

“I’m sure you are,” said Jack.

“The beer’s starting to make me feel a little bloated though. I wonder if I might switch to an I.W. Harper Manhattan as well.”

The bartender looked from Finch to Lucky.

“Go ahead,” said Lucky. He was still holding his money roll in his right hand, tapping it against the knuckles of his left hand. “Give him a Manhattan.”

“With I.W. Harper,” said Finch.

“Ha ha,” said Molly. “Fuckin’ Finch.” But she laid her glass down too, and it was empty. “Hit me up again, too, Jack, and a little more Rémy in it this time.”

I took another good sip from my Manhattan. It tasted even better, but I knew this was no time to get caught up in a drinking fest.

“Well, drink up, Mr. Jones,” I said. “We really should go.”

“What’s the hurry,” he said. “We got a live one here, Arnie, let’s stay for at least one more.”

“Yes,” said Lucky. He pocketed his money roll, then reached past me to pick up his Manhattan. “What’s the rush?”

“I have errands to do,” I said.

“Errands? Like what? Since when do you do anything at all productive with your day? Certainly not since your little psychotic episode.”

“It’s true,” I said, “I have been on a sort of vacation. But nevertheless I told this gentleman I know, Mr. Arbuthnot --”

“Arbuthnot, I know him,” said Lucky.

“Well, I told him or I would get some fresh seafood for his cat. Shnooby.”

“That’s not going to happen, Arnold.”

“Maybe not,” I said. “But we’re still leaving. Or attempting to leave. As soon as we finish these drinks. I hope.”

“Wait a minute,” said Lucky. “I just realized something. You’re drunk. You’re hammered.”

“Um --”

“Or, no, wait -- you’re high, that’s it, isnt it? You’re on drugs.”

“Well, just one pill,” I said.

“What kind of pill?”

I turned to Mr. Jones. For some reason I was once again floating about six feet over his head, even though he was standing right next to me.

“Hey, Mr. Jones,” I called down. “What was that pill you gave me?”

“Stop shouting,” he said. “It’s not that noisy in here.”

“Sorry,” I said, I hoped in a more normal tone. “What was that pill again, the one you gave me?”

“Oh, it was one of them newfangled pills,” He said.


It suddenly occurred to me that no one ever said oldfangled. Why was that?

“LSD,” said Mr. Jones.

“Pardon me?”

“LSD,” said Mr. Jones. “The pill you took. They call it LSD.”

(Continued here, and onward into the new year and God only knows how many more to come.)

(Turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a rigorously compiled listing of links to all other “street-legal” episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. All contents vetted and approved by the Holy See™ of Rome. Nihil Obtat, Bishop John J. “Jocular Jack” Graham, SJ.)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

tales of the hotel st Crispian: chapter 40

"the cabbie's tale"

by manfred skyline and horace p sternwall

illustrated by roy dismas and rhoda penmarq

for complete episode, click here

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas poem from Arnold Schnabel

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

We will return to our ongoing unexpurgated serialization of Arnold Schnabel' s mammoth masterwork Railroad Train to Heaven after the Christmas weekend, but in the meantime we give you again one of Arnold's most beloved poems, first published in the Christmas 1962 number of the Olney Times...

“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 16, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 281: saints

On the fog-shrouded island of lost souls, in a riverfront tavern called The Dead Man, our intrepid hero Arnold Schnabel and his aged companion the sybaritic Mr. Jones are in conversation with a chubby little man named Finch...

(Go here to read our immediately preceding episode; newly matriculated students may click here to return to the very beginning of this 68-volume Gold View Award©-winning memoir.)

“Previously only available in a severely edited and now almost impossibly rare one-volume ‘paperback original’ edition under the Delray imprint, the first several volumes of Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling masterpiece have now finally become available in all their resplendent glory to a salivating public.” -- Harold Bloom, in The New York Review of Books.

“Now, that’s no way to talk,” said Finch. “Nice old gent like you.”

“Who ever said I was nice?” said Mr. Jones.

“Yes but still,” said Finch. “I was only trying to be helpful. Mr. Schultz,” he said, looking up at me, “you understand, don’t you?”

I was floating five or six feet above him, even though he was sitting right next to where I stood.

“I’m sorry,” I called down. “What do I understand?”

“You needn’t shout at me,” said Finch. “It was only a civil question.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just that you’re so far down there.”

“You’re scaring me,” he said.

“Ha ha,” I think it would be fair to describe Mr. Jones as cackling here. “Arnie just took a pill, that’s all. It’s got him high as a kite.”

“A pill?” said Finch, looking from Mr. Jones to me and and back to Mr. Jones. “You’ve got pills? Do you have any more?”

“Sorry, pal,” said Mr. Jones. “I gave Arnie the last one on accounta he’s got a bum wheel.”

“I wish I had a pill,” said Finch.

“Well, you still got your beer,” said Mr. Jones.

“Yes,” said Finch. He raised up his stubby, greasy glass, with its two or three inches of yellow liquid that looked like nothing more nor less than a urine sample. “I still have my beer.”

“I always wondered if they would have beer in heaven,” said Mr. Jones.

“Ah, but my dear Mr. Jones, we are not in heaven, no, not by a long shot. However, I don’t know but I’ve been told that in God the father’s house they have taps in the bathrooms that dispense only the finest chilled German lagers and Belgian ales.”

“Arnie here has visited the big house,” said Mr. Jones. “Ain’t that true, Arnold?”

Suddenly I realized that I was now back at the level of my brain, if not quite within my brain entirely.

“I’m sorry,” I said. It was very hard to concentrate, what with the loud music, the shouting of men, the shrieking of women, the continual outbursts of mirthless-sounding laughter from both sexes. “What was the question?”

“Finch here says the bathrooms up in God’s house have fine German lagers and Belgian ales on draft. Is that true?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I never used the bathroom there.”

“Hold on a minute,” said Finch. “You were really in God’s house?”

“Yes,” I said. “But only briefly.”

I decided all at once that I wasn’t going to go into the whole business of my trying and failing to find a bathroom up there in God’s house.

“I’ll bet it was really nice, huh?” said Finch.

“Yes,” I said. “It was – it was –”

“Class all the way I bet.”

“Uh, yes,” I said, “it was, uh, very –”

“I heard that for mouthwash there they use only the finest Napoleon brandy, and that in the ladies’ bathrooms they have genuine French champagne on tap. I heard you can eat steak three times a day if you like.”

“Well, uh, I wouldn’t know –”

“Try getting a decent steak in this joint, or anywhere in this town.”

“Um –”

“I heard there’s perpetually-filled cigar humidors and silver cigarette boxes on every table – and good cigars too, Cubans, and excellent cigarettes, Luckies, Camels, Old Golds, that’s what I heard! You didn’t happen to grab any free smokes while you was there, did you?”

“Um, no _”

“This is all we can get here.” From his shirt pocket he brought out a crumpled, almost-empty packet of cigarettes with foreign writing on it. ”Soviet-made. Cut with sawdust, and dried horse shit too probably, judging from the taste. You want one?”

“No thanks,” I said.

“I’ll take one,” said Mr. Jones.

“Certainly,” said Finch, and he extended the pack to Mr. Jones.

“Mind if I take one for later?” said Mr. Jones, taking two.

“Oh, no, uh, go right ahead,” said Finch, since Mr. Jones had already stuck one behind his ear and the other between his dentures.

With a sigh Finch took one out for himself. Looking at Mr. Jones in a sheepish way he said, “You wouldn’t have a light would you?”

“I certainly do,” said Mr. Jones, and, producing his book of Sid’s Tavern matches he gave first Finch and then himself a light.

“Ah, thank you,” said Finch. “I’m afraid matches are another commodity not so easy to come by here. May I see those?”

“Sure,” said Mr. Jones, and he handed over the matches. Keeping his cigarette in his mouth, Finch lifted his glasses with one hand and examined the book of matches. “Sid’s Tavern. Cape May, New Jersey. So bars still give away free matches?”

“Sure,” said Mr. Jones.

“Nice place, Sid’s?”

“It’s all right,” said Mr. Jones.

Finch sighed again, and nodded, putting the matches into his side jacket pocket.

“Hey, partner, can I have them matches back?” said Mr. Jones.

“Oh, sorry,” said Finch. “Absent-minded of me. Heh heh.” He extricated the matches and gave them back to Mr. Jones, who quickly pocketed them again.

Finch looked at me through his own cloud of smoke that did smell distinctly of burning sawdust and of horse manure.

“How come you didn’t stay there, Mr. Schoendienst?”

“Pardon me?”

“In God’s house. Why did you leave? I hope they didn’t kick you out.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “It was – well, they decided I didn’t have to die after all, I guess, so I was able to come back to the world of the living.”

“And you’re still trying to get back,” he said, smirking slightly.

“Oh, no, I made it back all right.”

“Wait, you made it back? To the world of the living?”

“Yes,” I said.

“But why are you here then? I don’t understand.”

“Well, I came back here again, to, uh, this world –”

“The world of the dead. What they call the next world in the previous world.”

“Yes,” I said. “I just came back again this afternoon actually, because Mr. Jones had died and I wanted to try to bring him back.”

“To the world of the living.”

“Yes,” I said.

“So you’re able to travel back and forth at will from the world of the living to the world of the dead?”

“Well, not exactly at will,” I said. “It’s only been a couple of times.”

“And you’re even able to bring the dead back with you.”

“Well,” I said, “that’s what I’m trying to do, but –”

“You know what this means,” said Finch. “It must mean you’re a saint.”

“Oh, I doubt that.”

“A saint or a devil.”

“Ha ha!” Mr. Jones cackled again. “Arnold! A devil! Ha ha!” He clapped me on the back. “Arnold’s no devil. Nicest guy in the world. Nicest guy in any world. Wouldn’t hurt a fly, wouldja, Arnold?”

Here again I chose not to reveal something about myself, namely that I was on friendly terms with a talking fly. I didn’t want to appear to be boasting.

“A saint,” said Finch. He tapped his cigarette with the index finger of the hand that held it and the ash fell to his lap. He had an ashtray in front of him, a scuffed tin one filled with butts, I don’t know why didn’t use it. “Here on the island of lost souls, a saint,” he continued. “May I have the honor of purchasing you a fresh libation, sir?”

“Well,” I said, “we really were intending to move along, you see, to – to –”

“To return,” said Finch.

“Yes,” I said.

“To the world of the living.”

“Yes,” I said. “We hope to, anyway.”

“And I wish you godspeed on your journey and all the best of luck. But please, just have one more drink. On me. It would be my pleasure.”

“What about me?” said Mr. Jones.

“And a drink for you too, Mr. Jones, of course,” said Finch. “Why, any friend of a saint must needs be a saint himself!”

“Hey,” said Mr. Jones. “You hear that, Arnold? We’re a pair of saints you and me!”

“So you’ll do me the honor?” said Finch, addressing me.

“Well, um,” I said.

“Sure, pal,” said Mr. Jones.

“Oh, splendid,” said Finch. “So what will it be? A couple more beers?”

“Well, okay,” I said.

“No, fuck that noise,” said Mr. Jones. He quickly finished his Manhattan and put the empty glass down on the bar. “Manhattans.”

“Oh, Manhattans,” said Finch.

“Yeah, except this time tell the bartender to use I.W. Harper instead of Schenley’s.”

“I.W. Harper,” said Finch. He seemed nervous.

“Yeah,” said Mr. Jones.

“Um, what about you, Mr. Schwartz,” said Finch, meaning me.

“Oh, just a beer,” I said.

“Two Manhattans,” said Mr. Jones.

“Two?” said Finch. I noticed he was starting to sweat, and he was getting short of breath again.

“Two,” said Mr. Jones. “You should have one too.”

“Oh, no, thank you, I’ll just stick to my draft Rheingold, thanks.”

“Suit yourself.”

“Yes, quite. Oh, Jack!” He was calling the bartender, the one who looked like Wallace Beery. There was another bartender there who also looked like a movie actor, although I couldn’t quite place him. Wallace Ford? “I say, Jack!”

Jack turned his head.

“Can’t you see I’m waiting on someone else?”

And it was true, he was filling a glass mug at a beer tap.

“Sorry,” said Finch. “When you get time.”

“Wait your fucking turn,” said Jack, and he went back to filling the mug.

“Heh heh, he’s a card that Jack,” said Finch, and he took a sip from his greasy-looking beer glass.

“You’d better get your money ready,” said Mr. Jones.

“My money?”

“For the drinks.”

“Oh, yes. Of course. I suppose I better had, heh heh.” He reached inside his suit jacket and brought out his wallet. It was old-looking and brown, a worn brown. “You gentlemen notice that I keep my wallet in the inner breast pocket of my coat, a pocket into which I have had my tailor add a button and buttonhole for additional security. One can’t be too careful in this world.”

“Maybe you should get like a little chain attached to the wallet,” said Mr. Jones.

“A chain?”

“Yeah, a sturdy steel chain. Lock the other end of it to your belt maybe.”

“That’s not a bad idea,” said Finch.

Suddenly the bartender was standing in front of Finch with a fresh stubby glass filled with yellow liquid, with a small but noticeable head on it which evaporated before my eyes in a matter of a second.

“Two bits,” said the bartender.

“Ah, yes, thank you, Jack, but I would like also to buy a round for my two friends here.”

“For real?” said the bartender.

“Yes,” said Finch.

“What, two glasses of Rheingold?”

“No,” said Finch. “Uh, two Manhattans please.”

“Two Manhattans,” said the bartender.

“Yes,” said Finch.

“With I.W. Harper this time,” said Mr. Jones.

“Yes,” said Finch. “Make it, uh, I.W. Harper.”

Now the bartender glared at me with an angry look on his face.

“What the fuck,” said the bartender.

“Um, uh,” I said, but then I realized he was looking past me.

I turned around. That little fellow in the zoot suit, Sid the Shiv, was standing in the open doorway of the bar. His pompadour was still deflated, the strands spreading like long dark fingers down over his pale face, and he was slightly bent forward, with his left hand on the pit of his stomach. In his right hand he held what looked like an opened straight razor. He was looking all around but he showed no sign of recognizing either me or Mr. Jones. Then he reached inside his jacket with his left hand, took out a folded-up pair of eyeglasses, and, flicking them open with just the one hand, he put them on. He quickly glanced around again, and his magnified eyes locked on mine.

“There you are!” he yelled.

“You!” bellowed the bartender. “Sid! Outa here! You’re banned and you know it!”

“Fuck you, Jack!”

And Sid staggered forward, his razor held out to the side. The music continued to play, people continued obliviously to laugh and shout at one another. I already had my empty beer bottle in my hand, and I had some vague notion of throwing it at the fellow, when suddenly a tall man in a cream-colored suit stepped out from somewhere to the left of Sid, grabbed his wrist and, stepping behind him, twisted the little man’s arm around his back. Sid gave out with a horrible scream which coincided with a snapping sound, and he pitched to the floor, still screaming, his glasses falling off his face. The man in the cream suit stood over him, folding up the razor. He put the razor in his suit-jacket pocket. He was smoking a cigarette in a black holder. Besides the white suit he was also wearing a cream-colored panama hat with a black band. He had a thin black moustache and I realized that he was my old nemesis, Lucky, also known as Nicky Boskins, more popularly known as Lucifer.

Sid was writhing on the floor, holding his limp right arm, screaming.

Without saying a word, but with a smile at me, Lucky bent down, with his cigarette holder between his teeth, grabbed Sid with one hand by the collar of his zoot-suit jacket, and dragged him back to the doorway, which was still open. He tossed Sid, still screaming all the way, out into the grey fog, and then he closed the door.

The music had never stopped, but much of the chatter and laughter had subsided as people had noticed the altercation, if you could call it that. Now that Sid was outside and his screams were all but inaudible the crowd returned to their interrupted laughter, their shouting and shrieking.

Now Lucky came forward toward us, toward me. He was smiling, still with his cigarette holder in his teeth.

Then behind him I saw the door open again. Sid kneeled in the doorway.

The place grew somewhat quieter again.

“Jesus Christ!” yelled Jack the bartender. “What the fuck’s the matter with you, Sid?”

Sid said something, called something.

“What?” yelled Jack.

Sid said something again. The place got a little quieter still, although the music continued. The girl singer was singing a different song now, I think it was “Gloomy Sunday”.

“What did he say?” asked Mr. Jones.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Now Lucky spoke, addressing Sid.

“What the hell are you saying?”

Again Sid belched something unintelligible.

“Asses?” said Lucky. “You’re calling us asses?”

Sid belched again.

“I think he said molasses,” said Finch. “God knows why.”

Sid yelled now, and finally I understood.

“Glasses,” I said, pointing to Sid’s eyeglasses, which were just a few inches away from Lucky’s feet, toward the bar. “He wants his glasses.”

“Oh,” said Lucky. He stepped forward, then, using a sideways swiping movement with his foot – he was wearing white bucks – he kicked Sid’s eyeglasses across the floor and to the doorway. Sid picked them up with his one good arm, his left arm, and put them inside his jacket. Then he closed the door. 

Once again the chatter, the laughing and the shouting resumed.

Lucky came toward us. He was smiling.

(Continued here, and onward; to do any less would be to ignore one’s mission in life.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what one only hopes is an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Stumped for ideas for holiday gifts? Give that special someone on your list a subscription to this blog on your Kindle! All proceeds to go directly to the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Arnold Schnabel Project™.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

tales of the hotel st Crispian: chapter 39

"nothing like a lady"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by rhoda penmarq, roy dismas and konrad kraus

*Ass’t Professor of Classics and Medieval Philosophy, Olney Community College; editor of “Sincerely, Horace”: Collected Letters of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. 2: the war years (1942-1945); Olney Community College Press.

(Go here for the entire thrilling episode!)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 280: Finch

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his companion the aged degenerate Mr. Jones, who have just entered a tavern called The Dead Man, somewhere in a world beyond this world...

(Click here to read our previous episode; anyone with way too much time on their hands may go here to begin this 52-volume Gold View Award©-winning memoir at the very beginning.)

“In these hundreds of neatly handwritten black marble copybooks this unassuming former railroad brakeman left a literary legacy unparalleled in its depth and scope since the days when Shakespeare so vigorously stomped upon the terra.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Les Crane Show.

Mr. Jones turned and looked up at me, and I looked down at him.

“Why are you so far down?” I called.

“I’m always this far down,” he yelled, his voice reverberating up through the six or seven feet of smoky air that separated his upturned face from my downturned one. “It’s just that pill you took. Took, took, took,” his voice echoed.

“Oh,” I said, “then that also explains why my voice sounds like someone else’s voice. Voice, voice, voice,” my own voice echoed.

“Yes, of course. But you feel okay, right? Right, right, right...

I decided just to ignore the echoes.

“Never better,” I said.

“You’re going to feel better still once we get a drink or two in us.”

“A drink. Yes. But then --”

“Then what?”

“Then --” I had to think about it for a moment. It was distracting that he seemed so far away even though he was standing right next to me. But I decided that this was something else (like so much in life, and, yes, like so much in death too I supposed) better left ignored.

“Take your time,” said Mr. Jones.

“I forget what I was going to say.”

“Fine, let’s get our load on.”

“Oh, wait, now I remember.”

I paused, for no reason that I was aware of.

“Speak freely,” said Mr. Jones.

“After we get a drink,” I said, “we have to try to --”

“After a couple of drinks,” said Mr. Jones.

“Okay, after a couple of drinks we have to try to figure out a way to --” it felt as if it were taking me forever to say this sentence; I quickly rushed to the finish line: “-- we gotta find a way to get back to the world of the living.”

“Ah, yes, the world of the living,” he said. “Although I must say this place looks pretty lively.”

The joint was packed, the bar was jammed, and all the tables and booths were full. On a low stage down to the right the jazz band played, and a Negro woman was stepping up to the microphone stand. She nodded to the fellow playing the trumpet, a slim Negro man in a shiny grey suit and a porkpie hat...

“Holy cow,” I said.

“What?” said Mr. Jones.

“I recognize one of those musicians,” I said. “The trumpet player.”

Mr. Jones turned and looked, and listened.

“Cat’s blowing a mean horn,” he said. “Who is he?”

“His name’s Gabriel. Gabe.”

“And you know him. From the real world.”

“We’ve met a couple of times.”

“In Cape May?”

“Yes, and also, uh, when I was trapped in the world of this novel I was reading, I met him again in this bar in Greenwich Village, I think it was called the Kettle of Fish.”

“Okay, you’re losing me. But look, let’s belly up and get those drinks.”

“He might be able to help us,” I said.

“The trumpet player.”


“How’s a trumpet player gonna help us?”

“He’s a friend of Jesus.”

“Friend of -- okay.” He put his arm in mine. “Let’s have a glass or two, and we can talk about it.”

“Okay,” I said, and Mr. Jones was guiding me toward the bar. He was moving much more quickly now, or at least so it seemed to me; I suppose the prospect of alcoholic refreshment had added, if not a spring to his step, then some vitality to his customary shuffle.

The area along the bar had appeared to me to be as filled with people as it could possibly get, but somehow Mr. Jones managed to squeeze both of us into a standing space. He already had a five-dollar bill out, undoubtedly one of Sid’s bills, and he held it aloft.

“Mr. Bartender, sir!” he called, loudly, his high thin voice cutting through the babble of voices, the music, and the amplified voice of the girl on the stage, who was singing “Blue Moon”.

One of the two bartenders who were back there came over. He looked like Wallace Beery.

“What’ll it be, pops?”

“Two shots of house bourbon, please, and two beers, any kind, as long as they’re cold.”

“Draft or bottle?”

The man was good, he already had two shot glasses on the bar and was pouring out two shots of I.W. Harper.

“Better make it bottles,” said Mr. Jones, “and don’t bother with glasses.”

The man went away and Mr. Jones picked up both shot glasses and handed me one.

“Don’t trust draft beer in places like this,” he said. “Don’t trust their glasses to be clean either. Now with a whiskey glass it’s different. The whiskey proves an excellent sterilizing agent. Cheers.”

“Cheers,” I said, and we both drank our shots in one go. I felt the whiskey sloshing like lit lighter fluid down my throat and when it reached the bottom of my neck it almost instantaneously spread downward through my body, all the way to the tips of my toes.

“Ah,” said Mr. Jones. “Now we’re talking.”

The bartender was there already with two opened bottles of beer, as I said, he was good.

“And, now, sir,” said Mr. Jones to the barman, “whilst my uncle and I are disposing of these --” he picked up the bottle nearest to him and glanced at the label, “Tree Frog Premium Lagers, would you be so good as to prepare us two Manhattans, icy cold, cold like an old nun’s kiss -- please chill the glasses in ice for a minute first -- oh, and if you don’t mind, use just a tiny splash of sweet vermouth. And you can hold the cherries.”

The man went away again, muttering, and Mr. Jones turned and looked up at me.

“Drink up, Arnold. God knows you’ve earned it today.”

We both lifted our beer bottles and drank. The cold beer coursed down my throat, soothing the delicate internal passages that the whiskey had so recently ravaged. It tasted good, which is to say no better or worse than the million mouthfuls of cheap beer I had previously drunk, so good in fact that I took a breath and took another two or three good gulps, and I saw Mr. Jones doing the same.

We both sighed, and then gazed at each other with that look that says, Yes, once again alcoholic beverages have successfully done what little (and yet so much) we have asked them to do.

“Whiskey and beer,” said Mr. Jones. “And Manhattans -- tell me, what more does life have to offer?”

I thought about this for a moment.

“I’ll tell you what,” said a man sitting on a stool to my right.

“What?” said Mr. Jones.

“I said I’ll tell you what more life has to offer,” said the man. He was a small, pudgy fellow, with uncombed greying hair. “If you want to know.” He had a raspy, squeaky voice, sort of like he was out of breath.

“And what’s that?” said Mr. Jones.

“Jack-shit,” said the man.

“Jack-shit?” said Mr. Jones.

”That’s it,” said the man. “That’s what else life has to offer: jack-shit and fuck-all.”

“Jack-shit and fuck-all you say?” said Mr. Jones.

“Yes, and, if you’re lucky, an occasional moment of non-alcoholic ecstasy, via either the right hand or the wrong woman, or through the means of one of those other substances, both organic and artificial, which the good lord has given us to escape the tedium and meaninglessness of existence. But all that goes without saying of course.”

“Sir, you are a man after my own heart,” said Mr. Jones, and he took another swig out of his bottle.

“Finch is the name,” said the man, including me in this self-introduction, and he offered his hand. I was closer to him, so I took it and gave it a shake. His hand felt cool and damp, like a small butterfish just when you take it out of the refrigerator. I quickly extricated my own hand and picked up my beer bottle as the man leaned over and down to shake Mr. Jones’e hand.

“Jones is my name,” said Mr. Jones. “Please to meet you, Finch. My somewhat socially-inept friend here is Arnold, Arnold Schnabel.”

I was busy gulping beer as he said this, but I quickly took the bottle away from my mouth. It was empty now anyway.

“Sorry,” I said.

“Don’t worry about it,” said the man. He wore a wrinkled off-white suit, he had beady blue bloodshot eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses, and he needed a shave. “I haven’t noticed you fellows here before. New in town?”

“Brand new,” said Mr. Jones. “Just got off the boat.”

“I hadn’t heard about any new arrivals.”

“It was an accident,” said Mr. Jones. “This idiot boatman was supposed to take us back to the world of the living --

“Harry, right?” The man smiled broadly. His teeth were small and yellow, and at least a couple of them were missing. “Great big heavyset guy? Harry?”

“Yeah, that’s the guy,” said Mr. Jones.

“Left you off here by mistake, did he?” He was almost panting. “What a dummy!”

“Yeah, he’s a moron all right,” said Mr. Jones.

“Ha ha, poor Harry!”

“Poor him? What about us?”

“Oh, poor you two as well.” He stopped smiling, abruptly. “But don’t worry, gents, it’s not so bad here.”

The bartender was back and he laid down two Manhattans in front of me and Mr. Jones.

“There you are, my good man,” said Mr. Jones, and he held out his five dollar bill toward the man.

“It’s five-fifty,” said the bartender.

“Five-fifty?” said Mr. Jones.

“Two shots, two beers, two Manhattans. Five-fifty.”

“You didn’t use top-shelf whiskey for those Manhattans, did you?”

“No,” said the bartender. “I used Schenley’s. Cheapest whiskey we got.”

“Seems awfully dear for a place like this.”

“I don’t make up the prices.”

“Tell you what -- Jack?” said this man Finch, addressing the bartender. “Let me buy this round.”

“Okay,” said the bartender. “Five-fifty.”

“I’ll pay for it when I pay for my next glass of beer.”

“Five-fifty,” said the bartender.

“Can’t I just pay for it when I pay for my next one?”

“You could, but if you want to play the big shot then you gotta put the money on the wood and make the betting good.”

“Oh, all right.”

Finch had had both his hands around his half-full beer glass, but now he very slowly began to draw his right hand away.

“Mr. Finch,” I said. “It’s okay, I’ll buy the drinks.” And I started to get my wallet out.

“Oh, no, I insist,” he said. He was still drawing one hand away from his beer glass, along the top of the bar, but very slowly, as if his arm were partially paralyzed.

“Five-fifty,” said the bartender.

I finished taking my wallet out, opened it up.

“Really, I’ll get it,” said Finch, but his right hand was still only about four inches distant from his beer glass, and moving if anything even slower, as if some invisible force was pulling on it in the opposite direction.

I took out a five and a one, and I gave them to the bartender.

“You can keep the change,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said, and he went over to the cash register.

Now all of a sudden Finch had his wallet out, and he started to open it.

“Oh,” he said. “I wanted to get that.”

“That’s okay,” I said.

“So,” said the man. He quickly put the wallet away, then picked up his glass of beer. “To your very good health, gentlemen. Mr. Jones. And Mr. Schneider --”

“Schnabel,” I said.


“Yes,” I said. “S-C-H-N-A--”

“Oh, I know how to spell Schnabel. Known a few Schnabels in my time.” He took a sip of his drink, and then put it down. “You’re not Jewish, are you?”

“No, I said.” I tasted my Manhattan. I’d tasted worse.

“Lutheran?” said the man.

“No,” I said. “I’m Catholic.”

“Excellent religion. Not that it matters anyway,” he said. “Nobody gives a hoot about any of that stuff here.”

“Never could stand bible-thumpers,” said Mr. Jones, taking a good drink of his Manhattan. “Live and let live, that’s my motto.”

“Well, it’s a little late for that now, Mr. Jones,” said Finch. “Everyone’s already dead here. Ha ha. But seriously I can give you fellows some tips if you like. Help you get settled in. I know where there might be a cheap room available. You chaps mind sharing a room?”

“Hey, pal,” said Mr. Jones, “we got no intention of staying here long enough to need a room.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean Arnie and me’re gonna have a few drinks, just enough to get a little merry, and then we are out of here, gone like Satchmo, man, way gone.”

“Gone where?”

“Where? Back to the world of the living, where do you think?”

“But you can’t go back to the world of the living. No one leaves this island.”

“Hey, we managed to get here, we’ll manage to leave here, pal.”

“But it’s not allowed. That’s like asking to get out of being in hell if that’s where they send you. You’re not allowed to leave. Even in purgatory or limbo you just can’t get up and leave whenever you want to.”

“We’ll see about that.”

“Look, fellas, I bleed for you guys. From the heart I bleed. I know it’s tough, ‘cause as you say, seemingly Harry was meant to take you over to the land of the living and all --

“Not seemingly was meant to,” said Mr. Jones. “He was actually meant to take us back to the world of the living. But he fucked up.”

“Well, that’s unfortunate, it really is,” said Finch, “that’s really unfortunate, and like I say my heart bleeds, but, I’m sorry, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but once you’re here, I’m sorry, but that’s it. You’re here. For life. Except your life never ends. Because, you know, you’re dead. But don’t worry about it, like I said, I’ll help you fellows get settled in. Just leave it to me. Just leave it to old Finchie, boys. Why, for just a modest fee --”

“Okay, here we go, should’ve seen it comin’,” said Mr. Jones.

“Seen what coming?” said Finch.

“The bite. Why didn’t you just come right out and ask us for a handout?”

“Hey, I’m just trying to make a living,” said the man. “Or a death I suppose I should say. A life in death. A living death. Trying to.”

“And this is what you do to make a living?” said Mr. Jones.

“A dying,” said the man. “Trying to make a dying.”

“By taking advantage of newcomers?” said Mr. Jones.

“We all have to do what we can to get by, sir. Everyone here. You’ll learn that, soon enough. And I can help you there, too. I know a host of likely grifts I can steer a hearty pair like you two toward. Like you, Mr. Schaefer --”

“Um,” I said. I had been sipping my Manhattan. It wasn’t the worst Manhattan I’d ever had. In fact I’d probably put it in the top 50% more or less.

“Yes?” said the man.

I forgot what I wanted to say again. Then I remembered that I had been about to correct him about my name. But I decided to let it go. It didn’t matter what he called me.

“Never mind,” I said. “Go on.”

“Take a strapping fellow like you, Mr. Schuster, and a wily well-spoken old gent like Mr. Jones here, why, what you could do is use Mr. Jones as the Judas goat, have him come on all innocent-like and ask passersby on the street to help him with something, like he dropped his watch or his wallet in a dark alleyway but he can’t find it ‘cause he’s old and nearsighted, and then when he lures the greedy son-of-a-bitch into the darkness, then you Mr. Schmidt can jump out from behind an ash can and knock the sucker on the head with a sap.”

“Um --” I said.

“I could help you find some good marks. I’m good at that. All I would ask for my share would be say twenty percent of the take.”

“Um, hold on,” I said.

“Ten percent,” he said.

“Listen,” said Mr. Jones. “You slimy four-flusher --”

“Five percent,” said Finch. “That’s more than fair.”

“Look, pal,” said Mr. Jones. “We are not a couple of cheapjack back-alley muggers.”

“Okay, then, maybe some other grift,” said the man. “I certainly didn’t mean to offend you. What about three-card monte then?”

“Nor are we grifters of any sort.”

“But you have to be on some kind of grift. Unless you want to be bumming for spare change, but let me tell you, you won’t make much beer money that way round here. No, sir. Now, me, I always try to give a bum a penny, if I can spare it, but most of the low-class scum around here? Forget it. Never saw so many misers in my life, squeeze a nickel so hard they make the Indian ride the buffalo’s back.”

“Look, ”said Mr. Jones. “Like we already told you. We ain’t staying here.”

“Oh, very funny. That’s what I said, what, forty-two years ago, and look at me, I’m still here.”

“You been on that barstool for forty-two years?” said Mr. Jones.

“Not continuously, no,” said Finch. “I do have a room to go home to. Which is more than some of these birds in this dump can say. It may not be the Ritz, or the Waldorf-Astoria, it might not even be the Hotel St Crispian, but it’s okay. Maybe you fellows would like to share it with me? You could have the bed. I really don’t mind sleeping on the throw rug. Split three ways, the rent would be --”

“No, thanks,” said Mr. Jones.

“But I’m hardly ever even home. You would barely even know I was there.”

“Listen very carefully,” said Mr. Jones.


“Fuck you,” said Mr. Jones.

(Continued here, and damn the torpedoes!)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page for a current listing of links to all other cybernetically-available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, now available, for a modest fee, directly to your Kindle. All proceeds to be forwarded to The Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia to use as that august organization deems fit.)

Monday, December 5, 2011

tales of the hotel st Crispian: chapter 38

"in a civilized manner"

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by roy dismas and rhoda penmarq

for complete episode, click here

Saturday, December 3, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 279: Dead Man

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his aged companion the disreputable Mr. Jones, walking through the fog in a place with no name towards an unknown destination in a world beyond this world...

(Kindly go here to read our immediately preceding episode; the intrigued and the perplexed both may click here to start this 77-volume Gold View Award-winning memoir at the very beginning.)

“If Proust’s great accomplishment was to conquer time, then that of Arnold Schnabel was to render meaningless the very concept of time.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Sally Jessy Raphael Show.

Sid’s voice diminished behind us, and the jazz music grew louder. Mr. Jones pretty soon was walking so slowly as to be barely moving at all, and I took his arm and tried to give him what support I could, given that even despite the pill I had taken a shuddering bolt of pain ignited in my right knee with each step my right leg took. I could see nothing but my ancient companion and the damp cobblestones within a couple of yards' radius of our feet; everything else was that grey and gently breathing cloud all around us and above us. It had been daylight when we had first embarked on that foggy river, but now what little light that had been filtering slowly through the fog from above was fading; night was falling in this world beyond the world, which seemed strange, but then on second thought no stranger than anything else I had seen or experienced here beyond the pale.

I noticed that the air had a fishy smell to it, the smell of the docks, but a river smell as opposed to an ocean smell. There was also an odor of wet leather, of rope and of motor oil, and – I am only trying to be as honest as I am able here – a slight but distinct smell of feces.

We limped and shuffled on through the fog, Mr. Jones and I.

The music grew louder, I didn’t recognize the tune, or rather it sounded somehow like hundreds of tunes I had heard thousands of times but didn’t know the names of, songs on jukeboxes or diners in bad neighborhoods or in the sort of gangster movies that play as second features (which, to be honest, I tend to enjoy more than the main feature).

I could no longer hear Sid the Shiv at all. I wondered if I should have tried to help him in some way, even if he did say he intended to kill both Mr. Jones and me. But what could I have done really? I could barely walk now myself; it would have been extremely difficult for me to have carried or dragged him. But then I thought: yes, difficult, and certainly painful, but probably not impossible. Let’s face it, I had left him there because he had said he intended to kill me and Mr. Jones. But wouldn’t a good Christian have tried to help the man anyway? And, having helped him, wouldn’t that improve my (and Mr. Jones’s) chances of not being killed by the fellow?

I stopped. And since I was holding Mr. Jones’s arm, he stopped too.

“Mr. Jones,” I said. “I think we should go back and get that guy.”

“Are you completely insane?”

“Well, I might be –”

“Now I know why they put you in that loony bin.”

“Well, uh, heh heh, it just seems a little cruel to leave him lying there, incapacitated, on the cobblestones.”

“He tried to rob us, Arnold. He threatened you with a switchblade.”

“That’s true,” I said.

“What’re you, bucking for sainthood?”

“Well, uh, I just think we should, or anyway I should, go back and, uh, I don’t know –”

I paused. Mr. Jones stared at me. Then:

“You know what I should do, Arnold?”

“Um, go on ahead? While I go back for the guy?”

“Yes, I should go on ahead,” he said. “But, however, if you are so foolishly insistent upon pursuing this absurd course of action I shall accompany you. And why, you ask. You ask me why.”

“Um –”

“Ask me why.”

“Um, why,” I said.

“Why you ask? I’ll tell you why. Because I’m afraid he’ll get the drop on you and try to bump you while you’re helping him. How do you know he ain’t got another shiv secreted on him somewheres? Or a rod.”

“Oh,” I said.

“I shoulda patted him down good when I lifted his wallet. I must be getting old. What am I saying, I’m eighty-seven, of course I’m old. But look, I still got his shiv.” He patted his right side pocket. “So I’ll come with you and sorta ride shotgun. He tries to pull anything while you’re helping him and I’ll stick him like a Christmas turkey.”

“Well, okay,” I said. “But only as a last resort, okay?”

“Only if he tries some monkey business.”

“Tell you what,” I said, “maybe it’s best if I just frisk him first.”

“Okay, that’s a good idea.”

“Just to make sure he doesn’t have a gun or another knife,” I said.

“Or a razor,” said Mr. Jones.

“Yes,” I said.

“Or a blackjack. Brass knuckles maybe. Or an icepick.”

“Right,” I said, and already I was starting to have second thoughts. What if he knifed me or shot me or coshed me before I had a chance to frisk and disarm him? What if he also killed Mr. Jones? It would be my fault. “You know –” I said.


“Now I’m worried."

“That he’ll get the drop on you.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Slit you ear to ear before you have a chance to frisk him.”


“Or pull a belly gun, maybe a derringer, and plug us both.”

“Well, you know,” I said. “I doubt if he has a gun. I mean, if he did, he would probably have pulled it on us when he tried to rob us.”

“That’s true,” said Mr. Jones. “I’ll grant you that one. But he still might have another blade on him. I mean his name is Sid the Shiv after all.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Good,” said Mr. Jones, “let’s get those drinks.”

“I still feel bad though,” I said.

“You’re killing me, Arnold. I mean, I know, I know, I’m already dead, but you’re killing me, boy.”

“Okay,” I said. “Here’s an idea. What we’ll do is we’ll go to this bar or whatever it is, and we’ll phone for an ambulance.”

“Phone for an ambulance.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Arnie, we’re in the afterworld, in some place that’s apparently neither heaven nor hell nor limbo. What did he call it?”

“I don’t know. Island of Lost Souls or something.”

“Port of Grim Shadows.”

“Place With No Name.”

“Nowheresville,” said Mr. Jones.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Point being, do they even have ambulances here?”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” I said.

“But, look,” said Mr. Jones. “We’ll ask.”

“Right,” I said.

“We’ll ask the the bartender,” said Mr. Jones.

“Yes,” I said. “The bartender will know. And he’ll probably know what number to call.”

“Indeed he will,” said Mr. Jones. “If there is a bartender. If there’s even really a bar out here and not just this endless fog.”

“But there’s that music,” I said.

“That could mean nothing,” said Mr. Jones. “It could just be, what, the music of the spheres. But, look, let’s go find out. I’m tired of standing here jabbering.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Kill you,” said a voice.

“What was that?” said Mr. Jones.

“Oh, shit,” I said. “Pardon me.”

“You’re pardoned. What was that?”

“Kill yez,” said the voice, louder now.

“It’s him,” I said, in a whisper.


“That guy. Sid. The Shiv.”


“Fucking kill yez,” said the voice.

“Shit,” whispered Mr. Jones. “What’s he saying.”

“Kill yez,” said the invisible Sid, louder.

“He’s saying, ‘Kill yez,’” I whispered.

“That can’t be good,” said Mr. Jones.

“No,” I said.

Mr. Jones took the switchblade out of his jacket pocket.

“You good with a knife?” he asked in a whisper.

“I doubt it,” I said.

“Weren’t you in the army?”

“Yes, but I was an engineer.”

“Okay, I better hang onto the knife then. What do you want to do?”

“Let’s keep heading for that music,” I said. “Maybe we’ll be safe there.”

“Maybe,” said Mr. Jones, and he put the knife back into his pocket “But even if we aren’t we might still be able to get a drink. Let’s move.”


I took his arm again and off we went into the fog, moving as fast as we could, which I’d estimate was about one yard every half-minute or so.

Behind us in the fog Sid’s voice followed us, saying variously, “Kill yez...murder yez...kill yez both...fuckin’ kill yez…”

But his voice never seemed to get any louder or to sound closer, so I could only assume that he was moving as slowly as we were, either because he chose to, or, more likely, because he was physically unable to thanks to my head-butt and to the injuries he had sustained as the result of his attendant fall on those hard paving stones.

The music however continued to increase in volume with each shuffle and limp Mr. Jones and I completed, and, finally, after a few minutes in which we spoke not even in a whisper (not wanting to reveal our position and also perhaps because neither of us had anything to say), a few minutes during which I thought enough thoughts to fill a book the size of the Bible with gibberish, I saw a red and orange glow in the fog ahead.

“Mr. Jones,” I whispered, “can you see that?”

“What?” he whispered back. “I see nothing, only a thick greyness which might be the external manifestation of my own soul.”

“I think I see a neon sign.”

“Oh, thank God,” he said. “Or whomever. Let’s hurry before that bastard catches up with us and we’re forced to fight for our lives, if one can fight for one’s life in death.”

We quickened our pace to perhaps two yards every half minute, and pretty soon I saw cursive thick letters take shape out of the fog, orange letters outlined by red, and near these letters I saw other smaller blotches and smears of yellow and red and orange.

“What’s it say?” whispered Mr. Jones. “Can you read it?”

“Yes,” I whispered back.

“Well, what is it?”

“The Dead Man,” I said.

“The Dead Man?”

“Yes,” I said.

We shuffled and limped a few more feet toward the neon and the music. I could no longer hear Sid, but that didn't necessarily mean anything.

“I can make out some other words now,” I whispered. “Smaller ones.”

“What do they say.”

“Cold Beer and Fine Cocktails. Live Music. Crabs.”

“Crabs. That’s somehow encouraging.”

“Yes,” I said.

Finally a building began to take shape ahead of us; what with the fog I couldn’t tell how tall it was, or even how broad it was, but now along with the neon signs I could see walls of dark reddish-brown brick, windows made out of yellowed glass bricks, a dark green metallic-looking door, a cracked flagstone sidewalk.

Night seemed to have fallen almost completely now, but as we drew closer to the bar the light of the neon and a much dimmer glow from the other side of the glass bricks cast faint gleamings on the damp pavement and on the cobblestones below the curbing in front of the building. A crooked sign on the scratched and dented door became visible and then legible: NO LOITERING. The dockside and fecal smells now became subsumed by the rich odors of beer and whiskey and tobacco smoke, with undercurrents of frying-grease and of urine.

The jazz music was loud and now I could also hear muffled harsh laughter and shouting.

“At last,” said Mr. Jones. “At long fucking last. Now that we’re here it don’t seem too bad.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “It looks pretty rough.”

“You wanta stay out here and deal with Sid the Shiv?”

“No,” I said. “Let’s go in.”

I helped Mr. Jones step up from the curb and now I suddenly realized that I had somehow become separate from the pain in my knee.

“Hey,” I said. “I think that pill’s really starting to work now.”

“Of course it is. I wouldn’t lay bad shit on a pal.”

“It’s like I know the pain is there but the pain doesn’t bother me. Like it’s someone else’s pain. In someone else’s leg. That’s weird. Both my legs feel like someone else’s legs.”

“Yeah, it’s working all right,” said Mr. Jones.

“Everything feels somehow beautiful now,” I said.

“Yeah, it’s working,” he said. “Come on, let’s get outside those drinks.”

“I love drinks,” I said.

“Okay, you can let go of my arm now, Arnie boy.”

I let go of his arm.

“I really love you, Mr. Jones,” I said.

“Yeah, sure, kid.”

“I feel like you have the wisdom of the ages.”

“Sure I do. Let’s go.”

We made our way across the pavement to the door. Mr. Jones shuffled, I floated along beside him. The door had a big curved brass handle, tarnished and scarred. I pulled the door open and a blast of music and smoke and human voices and little blobs and points of liquid color and shadows and human faces all assaulted us. The bar inside was crowded with the people who belonged to these faces.

“Looks like a nice stopping place,” said Mr. Jones.

I held the door open for him. Mr. Jones went in, and I floated in after him.

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

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