Saturday, January 22, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 234: the fly & I

On a rainy Sunday morning in August of 1963 our hero Arnold Schnabel dresses for breakfast in his attic room in his aunts’ ramshackle Victorian boarding house in the quaint seaside resort and fishing town of Cape May, New Jersey. With Arnold is his friend a talking fly...

(Go here to read our previous chapter; if you have just come down with your fourth severe cold of the season and have decided not to leave the house until winter’s end you may click here to return to the beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 43-volume masterpiece of autobiography.)

“Arnold Schnabel -- how trippingly and delightfully the very name rolls off the tongue!” -- Harold Bloom, interviewed in High Times.

In a matter of minutes (during which time the fly quizzed me about the number and quality of bars and diners and restaurants in town,* as well as to the number and quality and availability of what he called “broads”**) I had buttoned my shirt and tucked it in, put my belt on and buckled it, and laced my feet into my comfortable old Keds.

“So, dress slacks with sneakers and no socks?” said the fly. “I did not know you were ten years old.”

“Look, I’m just going down to breakfast, okay?”

“Just so you ain’t going off to church dressed like that.”

“People are very informal at church here anyway. It’s a resort. Some men even forgo neckties --”

“Whatever, let’s go.”

I went down my attic steps and gingerly opened the door to the hallway again.

“Come on, pal, let’s get the lead out,” said the fly. “I’m starving up in here.”

“Quiet,” I whispered.

I stuck my head into the corridor, directing one ear toward the bathroom. I had to go past the bathroom to get to the stairs down on the left, and it would be essential to make it down the hall without being accosted by Miss Evans again. I couldn’t count on my mother inadvertently rescuing me twice in a row.

Fortunately I could hear the sound of the bath water running, also the sound of a woman humming a vaguely familiar air.

“Oh, come on!” said the fly.

“All right, I think we’re okay,” I said, in a low voice.

For a second I considered taking my sneakers off, but I didn’t want to hear what the fly would say about it, so instead I started slowly walking toward the stairs, keeping close to the wall opposite the bathroom. The portrait photograph of Robert Taylor looked down on me indifferently.

However, just as I got near the latitude of the bathroom the humming abruptly ceased and the sound of the running water stopped also. Instinctively I stopped in my tracks, like a burglar who has just heard a car pull up in the driveway of the house he is robbing.

The fly gave a zooming buzz by my ear, as if to say once more, “Oh, come on!

I took a step, and then another.

I paused.

I was directly across from the bathroom door now.

I took another step, and an ancient floorboard creaked with a sound like that produced by a cat who’s had its tail stomped on by a great fat man.

“Arnold,” shot out Miss Evans’s voice, from inside the bathroom. “Is that you, dear?”

“Busted,” whispered the fly in my ear.

“Arnold? Are you out there?”

I could hear the fly snickering as he flew loop-de-loops around my head. Robert Taylor up there on the wall seemed to be attempting to hold in a great peal of laughter.

“Arnold,” Miss Evans called again.

“Uh, yes, Gertrude,” I said, yelled, croaked.

“Why have you stopped out there?”

The fly continued to snicker and to fly about in an exaggeratedly hysterical manner. Robert Taylor also was now chuckling all but audibly.

“Arnold,” she called again, “what the bloody hell are you doing?”

“Uh -- I was -- um -- tying my shoelace,” I yelled, or gasped.

“Oh,” said her voice. “Really.” I heard a splishing, splashing noise. Then: “There wasn’t something you wished to say to me, was there?”

“No,” I said, but for some reason the way I said it sounded as if I were not quite sure, not very sure at all.

I heard another splashing sound. Then silence. Then:

“Arnold, why are you still standing out there?”

“Just, uh, um -- I don’t know.”

“Silly man. Go eat your breakfast before your mother climbs those stairs again. Ha ha. Drags you downstairs by your earlobe.”

“Okay,” I said.

I lifted my right Ked to take a step but the voice called out again.

“You won’t forget our date?”

“No,” I said.

“When is it again?”


“Six-ish, at Phil’s Tavern.”

She meant Pete’s of course but I didn’t bother correcting her this time.

“Okay,” I said.


I heard splashing sounds again, and humming. I’m pretty sure she was humming something from the opera she’d been playing the previous day, La Traviata. Then she began to sing, in Italian, at least it sounded Italian. I headed quickly for the stairs, or as quickly as I could with my sore legs.

“So, what’s on the bill-of-fare for breakfast, do ya think?” asked the fly, just as I was reaching the second-floor landing. “Y’know what I could go for? Bacon and eggs. And home fries. No. Hey, ya know what I’m in the mood for? Pancakes. Yeah, pancakes, with lots of butter and lots of maple syrup --”

Suddenly I stopped on the landing before going down any farther.

“Um, listen,” I said, “about breakfast.”


He hovered in front of my face.

“By the way,” I said, as cheerily as I could manage, “what’s your name, anyway? I mean if you don’t mind telling me.”

“I’m a fly. Since when do flies have names.”

“But -- you said you used to be a human, right?”

“Yeah, so?”

He sounded a bit suspicious, as if he suspected I was up to something.

“Well,” I said (to tell the truth I was up to something), “then you must have had a name when you were human, right?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“So I was just wondering what that name was.”


“Well, so I can -- you know -- address you. When I’m speaking to you.”

“But I just told you I’m a fly now and flies ain’t got names.”

“But -- wouldn’t you like to have a name again?”

“I don’t give a shit. Now let’s go, I’m fucking famished here.”

“I just wanted a name to call you by.”

“Jesus Christ, awright awready, if I tell ya my old human name then will you get a fucking move on?”

“Sure --”



“Yeah, Francis.”

“Well, would you prefer it if I called you Frank, or --”

“I. Do. Not. Care.”

“So -- Frank’s okay then?”

“Sure, Frank is great, now come on, I’m about to get the dry heaves I’m that hungry.”

He started flying down toward the first floor, and I took a step after him, but then I said:

“Okay, but look, 'Frank', wait up. Here’s the thing --”

He stopped, and turned, facing me, with all his hundreds of hungry little eyes.

“Now what?”

“Look, it might not be such a great idea for you to eat breakfast with me.”


“And I’ll tell you why.”

“Oh, please do.”

“It’s just that my mother, and my three aunts, these are very cleanly ladies, you might almost say obsessively cleanly, you know -- German?”

“Oh, yeah, the Germans are clean all right.”

“And the thing is, if they see a fly at the table, I guarantee you they will grab every flyswatter and newspaper and slipper handy and they won’t rest until, until --”

“They’ve squashed me like a bug.”



“It’s just the way they are,” I said.

“Yeah. Germans.”


“They like to kill.”

“Well, you know --”

“Awright. Relax. I appreciate the heads up actually. But answer me this. While you’re enjoying a nice home-cooked breakfast, what the fuck am I supposed to do? Starve?”

“No. No, of course not.”

“Then what?”

I thought. Where could he safely get some food around here? Some of the guests might have a few crumbs lying around their rooms, but what if a guest saw the fly -- “Frank” -- and swatted him? I’d never forgive myself. But then I had a brainwave.

“Okay, look,” I said, “I have a little cousin, Kevin, and he has a small room off the first floor hall. The door is always open, and he has a habit of eating candy bars in his bed.”

“Candy bars?”

“Yes. And he just tosses the wrappers anywhere. With crumbs in them.”

“No kidding.”

“My aunts and mother are always cleaning up behind him but they can never get caught up. Also he’s always leaving empty bottles of Coke around, and peanut brittle, fudge, half-eaten cotton candy cones, ice cream containers, Tastykakes --”

“I’m liking this kid already. You think he’s in his room now?”

“No idea, but it doesn’t matter, the last thing he would ever do is swat a fly.”

“What is he, a Buddhist?”

“No, far from it, he’s just lazy, and not very cleanly.”

“Not a good Kraut boy, huh?”

“Well, he’s half Irish.”

“That explains it.”

“Um --”

“Fudge, huh?”

“Sure, and salt water taffy, licorice, jujubes --"
"I fuckin' love jujubes!"
"Sticks his chewing gum on the bed post --”
“Just show me the way, pal.”

“Sure, come on, uh, Frank --”

We came down to the first floor. I quickly walked past the open door that led into the short hallway to the kitchen, and came to Kevin’s little room at the other end of the main hallway. I believe it's a former storage closet or wood shed. As usual the door was ajar. The light was off and the room was empty. Outside its one small window the rain continued to fall. The room itself gave off an odor of damp, of old comic books and sugar.

“Right in there,” I whispered.

“I can smell the candy from here!” said the fly, buzzing merrily around my head. “Baby Ruth?”

“Oh, he loves Baby Ruths,” I said.

“Here I go,” said the fly. “I’ll see ya after breakfast. Meet ya up in your room?”

“Sure,” I said. “Do you want me to leave the door open, in case I go up first?”

“Don’t bother, I’ll just fly in under the crack.”

“Okay, then --”

“Arnold?” said my mother’s voice.

I turned. She was leaning her head out from the little hallway to the kitchen, one hand on the corner of the wall.

“Oh, hi, Mother.”

“What are you doing?”

“Oh, just, uh, seeing if Kevin is in his room?”


“Well, uh, I thought, oh, I don’t know, maybe he’d like me to take him to Wally’s, the cigar store, to get him some comic books.”***

“Oh,” she said. “But first you have to eat breakfast and go to mass.”

“Sure. Of course. I meant later.”

“Come in and eat your breakfast.”

“Yeah, sure,” I said.

Her head disappeared.

“Ha ha, hilarious,” said the fly. “Okay, check you after breakfast.”

And off he flew into Kevin’s dank little room.

And I headed off to my own breakfast.

*Questions I endeavored to answer to the best of my ability. {Marginal insertion in Arnold Schnabel's holograph.}

**A topic I told him I could not and would not as a gentleman discuss. {Marginal insertion.}

***Schnabel first mentions Wally's cigar store and pool room (now, alas, sadly defunct) way back in Chapter Two of the first volume of his memoirs. {Editor's note.}

(Continued here, and for a really long time to come, because yet another cache of Arnold’s memoirs -- one hundred and nineteen marble copybooks, in an old cardboard box marked “Christmas Decorations” -- has recently been discovered in the basement of his mother’s house at B and Nedro in the Olney section of Philadelphia.)

(Kindly go to the right hand column of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other legally-authorized chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. This week’s episode sponsored in part by The Committee for the Defense of Sarah Palin™: “Why is everybody always pickin’ on Sarah?”


Unknown said...

For a second I didn't worry about the fly's name, since Francis Albert Sinatra would still be stalking around in human form. But knowing how Arnold affects time or vice versa...

A ska video with Ann-Margaret and Anna Karina? I had to check to make sure it wasn't yours.

Dan Leo said...

Kathleen, that video must have been made especially for me!

Unknown said...

Lot of ethnic stereotypes in here! But I guess it was the 60s, so that's ok.

Dan Leo said...

Manny, I refuse responsibility for anything the fly says! (Or does.)

DR said...

great episode and also, that is a great photograph

Dan Leo said...

Yeah, I love that photo too, Dean. Although I'm not sure who is Arnold and who's the fly.

DR said...

i think the fly's on the left

Dan Leo said...

Dean, I think you're right.