Saturday, April 30, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 248: Buick Estate

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel in the company of the ardent novelist Gertrude Evans on a rainy Sunday afternoon in August, 1963, just inside the entrance of the Ugly Mug tavern...

(Click here to read our previous chapter; puzzled recent arrivals may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 77-volume masterpiece of autobiography.)

“Little did we oh-so-earnest literati of the latter half of the twentieth century know that a former brakeman for the Reading Railroad by the name of Arnold Schnabel was calmly composing, in complete obscurity, that massive memoir which we now recognize as the great American epic.” -- Harold Bloom, in Better Homes and Gardens.

She put her arm in mine again and we worked our way together through the bar, which was as packed on this rainy afternoon as on a Saturday night, the moist warm air thick with smoke and the smells of the perfume and the cigarettes and the sweat of all these people drinking and shouting and laughing through the keening of the electric organ and the banging and clashing of the drums, while the man who normally played the saxophone sang words from an unknown language into a microphone.

The DeVores had taken seats in a booth near the far end. Mrs. DeVore sat facing towards us, staring blankly. Mr. DeVore was all twisted around in his seat, smiling broadly and energetically waving his arm in a come-hither motion at us.

Miss Evans stopped, gripped my arm tighter in her arm, and put her mouth near my ear.

“Now, really, darling, just one, to be polite. I had to spend hours with these two morons last night, and it was hell, absolute hell I tell you.”

“Sure,” I said.

We got to the booth, and Miss Evans let go of my arm and slid in next to Mrs. DeVore, shoving the lady inward with her hip.

“Sit down next to me, Arnold buddy,” said DeVore, and he scooted toward the wall, patting the wooden bench with his hand.

I made a slight move as if to sit, but then did my impression of someone just then realizing something.

“Hey,” I said, “Y’know, I think first maybe I’d better just, uh, you know, go to, uh --”

“The little boys’ room?” said DeVore, still smiling as if in ecstasy.

“Yes,” I said.

“Hey, even the great poets gotta strangle the worm sometimes, pal!”

“Bob!” said his wife.

“Aw, honey,” said Bob, so that was his name, I’d really have to try to remember that.

“Honestly, Robert,” she said. “Miss Evans doesn’t want to hear that sort of language.”

“I assure you that this is just the sort of salty language I adore to hear,” said Miss Evans, opening her blue purse. “I am a writer. I must absorb the language as it is spoken by the people.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Bob, Bob DeVore, Robert, Bob. “Hey, Arnie, before ya go, whatcha drinkin’, pal?”

“Oh, uh, just a beer,” I said.

“Nonsense,” said Miss Evans, taking out her cigarettes. “Manhattans are what we need, and strong ones.”

DeVore scrabbled up a book of matches and tore one off.

“Okay, a Manhattan then,” I said.

“Manhattans it is!” said DeVore, and he gleefully leaned across the table and struck a match to give Miss Evans a light.

“Well, okay, I’ll be right back then,” I said, and I started to go.

“Hey, Arnold, wait,” said DeVore. He had finished lighting Miss Evans’s cigarette and he now he tossed it, still burning to the floor.

“Yes?” I said. I prudently put the sole of my Thom McAn cordovan on the match.

“Is it raining in the john?” he asked.

“Pardon me?”

“Your umbrella, you need to take that umbrella to the crapper with you?”

“Bob!” said Mrs. DeVore.

“Here,” DeVore said to me, holding out his grasping hand, and maybe he wasn’t as stupid as he seemed. “Give me your umbrella, pal, I’ll stick it under the table.”

I gave him my umbrella, said again that I would be right back, and, after smiling weakly at Miss Evans, who already looked bored, I went around the booth and down the little hallway that led to the rest rooms.

I went past the ladies’ room door, past the pay-telephone, past the men’s room door and down to the side exit. I opened the door. It was still raining, of course. I hesitated, partially because I now had no umbrella, but also out of guilt, and even more so out of anticipation of the outrageously implausible lies I would have to come up with to explain my disappearance. But, after all, I had rescued Miss Evans from the Devil, had I not? Was I also obliged to walk her home, where she would undoubtedly force me into her room and then -- I didn’t even want to think about what might happen then. I had managed to escape relatively unscathed the last time she had dragged me in there, and in fact it was she who had gotten knocked unconscious, but maybe next time I wouldn’t be so lucky, maybe next time it would be my turn to be rendered senseless or even worse.

No, I had done my bit.

Hunching my shoulders -- as if that would do me any good -- I headed out again into the rain.

I hadn’t gone two steps when I realized I was making a horrible mistake.

I quickly turned back and was inside the door before it could even close.

I turned and stood there, holding the door partway open.

I couldn’t just escape into the rain, and not merely because I had told my companions that I would be right back.

No, I couldn’t walk the four or five blocks home in this downpour without an umbrella, and the reason was that even if I didn’t care so much if I got soaked to the bone, my mother would care, my aunts would care, they would care very much indeed.

Oh, sure, I could try to sneak in the side door without anyone seeing me; but I would still be stuck with a soaking wet Sunday Krass Brothers suit which there would be no way to hide from my mother’s eagle eye, no way at all. Not to mention my nice dress shoes.

My mother would want to know why.

Why had I done such a thing? Why had I left my umbrella somewhere and walked home in a torrential downpour? She and my aunts would surely think this a symptom of insanity; and, after all, they would be quite justified in thinking so.

So much then for my brilliant plan of abandoning Miss Evans here with the DeVores.

Should I just give up? Go back and drink my Manhattan and play it from there?


To sit in a booth with Miss Evans and the DeVores, that might really be just the thing to send me straight back to Byberry.

And then I saw the answer to my quandary, right there across the street on the corner. The Cavalier Shop. A men’s clothing store. A men’s clothing store which surely stocked umbrellas. I took out my wallet and checked it. I still had seven dollars. More than enough for a modest but serviceable umbrella.

I looked both ways to make sure no cars were coming, and then, hunching my shoulders again, I bolted out the door, leaped over the gutter flowing with water, made it across the street in two more barbaric jumps, took another leap over the little river in the gutter on the other side, took a few more mad strides up the street and then a sharp turn at the corner to the shelter of the Cavalier Shop’s entrance awning.

And there in the window of the shop’s glass door as clear as day hung a sign which said in large red letters: CLOSED.

I rarely curse but I confess I then cursed, and aloud too, and more than once.

Panting, and wet, and miserable, I stared at the sign and through the shop’s plate-windows into the dim and empty interior. Irony of ironies, right inside the door stood a wooden rack of smart new umbrellas, from the Johnny Carson Collection.

I sighed and turned around and stared out at the rainy street.

The sidewalks were deserted, and there weren’t even any cars passing by.

Anyone with any sense had gone in somewhere out of the rain by now. Everyone in town was indoors, either drinking it up in bars or lounging at home or in their rented rooms and apartments, playing Scrabble and Monopoly, smoking cigarettes and reading the Sunday papers, watching Hopalong Cassidy movies on television, or perhaps sitting in the Beach Theatre eating popcorn and watching that new Rock Hudson movie, everyone was inside doing something normal. Everyone except me.

I felt a spasm of pain in my left knee, and then another spasm in my right ankle. As I stood there both spasms metamorphosed into a general continuous cacophony of pain surging up both my legs from my feet to my thighs. How foolish I had been to attempt that mad dash on my already sore legs. I really was insane, or, if not stark raving mad, then at least an idiot.

I stood there, trapped, my legs throbbing, my clothes damp with rain from the outside and my sweat from the inside. It wouldn’t have been so bad if I could sit down but of course there was nowhere to sit.

Oh well. I had had a pretty good run. I had met Elektra. I had defeated the Devil himself on three or was it four occasions. I had had some very interesting adventures. But now I was to be defeated for lack of an umbrella. Any minute now that importunate policeman would come cruising slowly down the street and arrest me for loitering with intent to commit God knows what malfeasance or outrage to common decency. It would be jail time or the looney bin, and I really didn’t know which would be worse.

If I had had a cigarette I would have given up my no-smoking resolution right then and there without a moment’s hesitation. In fact I even patted my jacket pockets, but of course I had no cigarettes because like a fool I had given up smoking the day before.

I looked up and down the street again, with all that rain sweeping down.

Directly across the street was Dellas’s 5&10. They probably carried umbrellas. But, no luck, they looked to be closed as well.

Down the street Wally’s cigar shop was open of course, Wally observed no holy days, or maybe every day was a holy day for him, but at any rate he wouldn’t stock umbrellas, and anyway even if he did he would probably demand some horrible price for one.

But wait, just halfway up the block on the other side, there was Mr. Arbuthnot’s shop. He would surely have an umbrella, and he would probably lend it to me. Of course getting the umbrella from him would entail me running across the street and up that half a block, in the rain, and then I would have to talk to Mr. Arbuthnot, and possibly also to his cat, but I couldn’t see any other possible course of action.

I turned up the collar of my suit jacket and took a deep breath. I bent forward, gearing myself up for another furious sprint or hobble through the rain. A station wagon was coming down the street from the right. I waited for it to pass, and it did, an old red Buick with wood paneling, but, just as I was just about to leap out, the wagon stopped in the middle of the intersection and then backed up, pulling in front of where I crouched.

The driver’s window of the wagon came down, and a young woman with short bright auburn hair looked out at me. She looked familiar.

“Arnold,” she said, “what are you doing there?”

“I’m, uh --”

She definitely looked familiar but I couldn’t quite place her.

“You’re what?” she said.

“I, um, I was about to run across the street,” I said.

“Haven’t you ever heard of these things called umbrellas?”

“Well, yes, and, in fact, I, uh --”

“You want a lift?”

“Well, only if you’re going my way --”

“Which way are you going?”

I pointed limply in the direction in which she had just been driving.

“Hop in,” she said.

Hunching my shoulders one more time I dashed out and around the front of the car to the passenger side, opened the door, got in, and closed the door.

“Well, thanks,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” she said. The light had just gone red, so we were just sitting there, the windshield wipers swishing up and down, the rain beating down on the roof of the car. Now that I was sitting my legs miraculously stopped hurting. The girl was looking at me. She wore a blue dress with no sleeves and a scooped neck, the dress seemed very loose on her. Her hair was damp, the shoulders of her dress were spotted with rain. A plain small black purse lay on the seat next to her. She had brown leather sandals on her feet. I just couldn’t place who she was. She wore no jewelry at all, and she was rather pale for a girl at the seashore.

The car smelled of warm old leather and of tobacco. The girl continued to look at me, with one hand on the steering wheel and the other hand lightly on the gear shift.

“It’s me,” she said. “Don’t you remember?”

And then it hit me. It was that young nun, Sister -- what was her name? Mary Katherine? Mary Margaret?

“Sure I remember you,” I said. “Sister, uh, Sister, um --”

Mary Elizabeth.”

“Sister Mary Elizabeth, yes, of course, how are you?”

“I’m fine. Considering.”


“Yeah.” She turned and looked ahead. The light was still red. She turned to look at me again. “How are you?” she asked.

“Okay,” I said.

“You don’t look okay.”

“I don’t?”

“No. You’re all wet and sweaty and out of breath. And why were you limping?”

“I fell last night.”

“Fell? Were you drunk?”

It seemed simpler just to say yes. So I said yes.

“Everyone was drunk last night,” she said. “It seemed like the whole town was drunk. Even I was drunk, and I’ve never been drunk. Is it always like this?”

“Yes,” I said. “Everyone’s drunk now, too.”

“Are you drunk now?”

“No,” I said. I didn’t mention the reefer I had smoked with Mr. Arbuthnot.

“Me neither,” she said. “My first drunk, my first hangover. Boy. Never again.”

How many times had I said that? But, instead of speaking this thought aloud, I said, “The light’s changed.”

“Oh,” she said.

She shifted the car into gear and stepped on the gas.

I touched the worn polished wood of the dashboard.

“This is a nice old car,” I said. “What is this, a ’46, ‘47?”

“I have no idea,” she said, and then instead of continuing on down the street she stopped in front of the Ugly Mug.

“Why are you stopping?” I asked. And here of all places, I might have added.

“I’m on what they call a ‘beer run’,” she said. “They ran out of beer at Mrs. Biddle’s, so I volunteered, even though I’m not drinking any. I can get beer here, right?”

“Uh, sure.”

“I tried that Pete’s Tavern place we were in last night but they were closed. Hey, if I give you some money do you mind running in, since you’re already wet? I forgot to bring an umbrella too.”

“Well --”

I suppose I looked nervous.

“What is it?” she asked.

“There are some people in there who I’m trying to --”

“Whom you are trying to.”

“Sorry,” I said. “Whom.”

“Whom what?”

“Whom I’m trying to avoid.”


“Do you remember that woman Miss Evans, and those people named DeVore?”

“Oh, no, really?’

“Yes,” I said.

“Wait, is this why you have no umbrella?”

“Yes,” I admitted. “When you saw me I had just escaped from them. The only way I could get away was to leave my umbrella.”

“So they would think you were coming back.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Pretty smart move. Except for the fact that it’s raining tadpoles.”

“Yes,” I said. “I didn’t plan it out as well as I should have.”

“Well,” she said, “I’m not going in there either then. I don’t want those people latching onto me. Where else can we get beer?”

“Collier’s,” I said, “liquor store, two blocks away, and on our way.”

“Just point me to it,” she said, shifting the car into gear again.

I did as she asked.

I may not know much, but I always know where to get beer.

(Continued here, and indefinitely unless the world really ends on May 21.)

(Please go to the right hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Buy your tickets now for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Arnold Schnabel Festival at Sturgis Playground in the scenic and colorful Olney section of Philadelphia. Tickets include the price of unlimited Schmidt’s© beer and Old English Style© pizza. All proceeds in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Literacy Project.)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 2


by Horace P Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo, Ass’t Professor of Classics and Phys. Ed.,
Olney Community College

illustrated by roy dismas and rhoda penmarq

for complete episode, click here

Monday, April 25, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 1

I shall be collaborating with the estimable scholar and artist rhoda penmarq on a new venture entitled "tales of the hotel st crispian". Kindly go here to read rhoda's inaugural chapter. Now you can say that you were among the first!

Arnold's Craziest Dream

By special request from Kathleen Maher, we re-broadcast this beloved day-after-Easter poem from "America's Poet",
Arnold Schnabel.

(Originally published in the Olney Times of April 28, 1962, and presented to you now thanks to the kind indulgence of the good ladies and gentlemen of the Arnold Schnabel Society. Nihil obstat: Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.)

"Easter Sunday, 1962"
So passes another Easter Sunday;
Our Lord has risen and we are redeemed;
But still I wish there could have been some way
To avoid what has always somehow seemed
To me an excessively horrible
Means of assuring our own special place
At God’s groaning celestial table
And His great feast of sanctifying grace,
As if the only way to save ourselves
Was to torture and kill the Son of God;
Each of us harbors unnameable hells,
But some of us harbor something more odd,
More strange, perhaps even slightly insane:
A dream of salvation not born from pain.

(Kindly turn to the right hand side of this page to find a listing of links to many other fine Arnold Schnabel poems, as well as to our serialization of his Walgreen’s Award-winning memoir Railroad Train to Heaven.)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 247: quite mad

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and that hot-blooded novelist Gertrude Evans outside the convivial Pilot House in the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey, on this rainy Sunday afternoon in August, 1963...

(Click here to read our previous chapter; latecomers to the festivities may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 52-volume memoir.)

“Never mind Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, and Cormac McCarthy. Horace P. Sternwall, Larry Winchester, and, above all, Arnold Schnabel: these are the true giants of modern American literature.” -- Harold Bloom in TV Guide.

She stood at the top of the steps, facing the street. She held her furled umbrella and the strap of her purse in her right hand, her cigarette in her left hand. She turned partway to look at me and smoke came from her mouth.

“This damned rain,” she said. “What is it with this rain?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“It was a rhetorical question. The rain has its good points. There’s something very romantic about the rain, don’t you think? But what do we mean by the word romantic. What do we mean indeed.”

“Is that a rhetorical question also?”

“And you ask that in all innocence no doubt. But no worries old chap. I’ll answer my own question. Romantic is a word we women use to denote all that has to do in a good way with -- oh, how shall I put it -- with erotic feelings.”

The English accent had returned.

“Oh,” I said.

“Romance is something we’re exceedingly fond of. By we I mean women of course. I believe it holds the same place in our system of values that sport holds for men.” She stepped closer to me. “Are you fond of sports, Arnold?”

“I used to be.”

“But no longer?”

“No. I just can’t seem to summon the interest.”

“And what about romance?”

“I’m beginning to appreciate it,” I said.

“She doesn’t have to know,” she said.

“Who doesn’t have to know?” I said.

“Your Persian vixen.”

“She’s not --”

She took another step towards me, holding up the hand that held the cigarette, palm outward.

“Not another word,” she said.

“But --”


She tossed away the cigarette and put her fingers on my cheek.

Inside the Pilot House the little band had started another number. I think it was “A Night in Tunisia”. I could hear Magda’s piano under Freddy’s accordion and Ursula’s saxophone. The crowd chattered away heedlessly.

“Do you mind if I share your umbrella, Arnold?” said Miss Evans. “There’s something so very awkward about two people walking together, each under a separate umbrella, like two -- two what? Two ships on the ocean? Like two automobiles in a road? Like two planets in a solar system? Part of the same universe but nonetheless separated. Awkward.”

“Any more awkward than two people sharing one umbrella?” is what I thought, “Especially if those two people are you and me.”

But what I said was: “Yes.”

“Yes it’s awkward or yes I can share your umbrella.”

“Yes on both counts,” I said.

She had taken her hand away from my face but now she was playing with my necktie.

“Where are we going, anyway?” she said.

“Well, I thought it might be a good idea to take you home.”

“Oh, you’re very cheeky, aren’t you.”

She gave my tie a tug.

“Well, I just think --”

“Yes, darling.”

“I just think we should get you home.”

“Get me home.”


“What do you mean by that exactly? No beating about the bush now.”

She smoothed the lapels of my jacket, or at least made smoothing movements with her fingers.

“Well, uh, to tell the truth,” I said, “I think maybe you could use a nap, Miss Evans.”



“That’s better. So much better. Say it again.”


“Yes, say it again.”

“Gertrude,” I said.

“Good. Now, what did you just say?”


“No, before you said Gertrude.”

“Miss Evans.”

“No, what was it you said when you called me by that appellation.”

“I don’t even remember now.”


“Oh. I think I said I think you could use a nap.”

“A nap. Yes. And why should I want a nap?”

“Well, you know --”


“Well, I just think that, uh, you know, you seem to have had a full lunch and all, and --”

“Oh,” she said. “I get it. You think I’m drunk.”

“Maybe just a little,” I said.

She stared at me, and then she drew back her open hand.

“Please don’t slap me,” I said.


She stared at the hand, which she had raised further and drawn back. She lowered it now.

“I have only your best interests in mind,” I said.

“You do? Have only my best interests --”


“A nap,” she said, in a way that at least sounded thoughtful.

“Naps are good,” I said.

“Especially on rainy days.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Very well, then, a nap it is. But, Arnold, will you take a nap with me?”

“Um --”

“Oh! How frightfully forward of me!”

She put her hand in front of her mouth. Then she lowered it. The hand that is.

“The things you make me say,” she said. “But come, not another word. Open your umbrella.”

I did as she enjoined me, she took my arm, and we went down the steps, turning left and going back towards Washington Street.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Lucky, still standing by his table, smoking a cigarette and gazing through the rain-wet window.

Our eyes met.

With the speed of a professional gunfighter he lifted his right hand and gave me “the finger”.

He smiled.

It was amazing how childishly vindictive and small-minded he was, but then what else would one expect, considering who he was.

Miss Evans and I walked on in the rain. I was still limping, but she didn't seem to take any notice of it.

It was obvious to me now that I wouldn’t be able to visit Elektra right away. I was well over three hours late for my meeting with Larry Winchester, and I still had to go out to the docks on a fish run for Mr. Arbuthnot’s cat Shnooby. Not to mention I had told Mr. Arbuthnot that I would try to get him some of that stuff from Wally, in exchange for the gold ring on my little finger.

With these thoughts in my head and God knows what thoughts if any in Miss Evans’s we were silent as we walked arm in arm down the sidewalk to the corner and then turned left.

The noise and laughter and music from the open front door of the Ugly Mug made Miss Evans stop as suddenly as if she had walked into a wall.

“Oh,” she said, and her face turned toward the open doorway of the Mug.

“No,” I said.

“The laughter,” she said. “The music.”

“The nap,” I said.

“The what?”

Her eyes looked up at me, as if I had said something in Chinese.

“The nap,” I repeated.

“Oh, this nap you keep going on about.”


She stroked my face again.

“The nap can wait, darling. We’ve waited this long. Can’t you wait another half hour or so?”

“Uh --”

“Or an hour?”

“Um --”

The rain rattled down on the umbrella and poured down all around our little hot and sweaty universe.

“Arnold, darling, don’t you want to be where the people are gay and music is playing?”

“Well --”

She hooked her arm around mine and moved closer to me, causing me to back up a step.

“Are you really that ardent, Arnold, that you can’t hold out for another half hour while we have a civilized cocktail?”

“Uh, listen, Gertrude, you seem to have misunderstood me. I’m not going to take a, uh, nap with you.”

“Oh ho, you bold creature. That’s perfectly okay. But please don’t hold it against me if I fall into a contented doze after our first furious bout of lovemaking.”

She kept moving closer to me and I continued to back up. Unfortunately she was backing me up towards the entrance of the Ugly Mug, and we were now almost inside the bar. Keeping my umbrella up with one hand, I put my other hand on the doorframe so that I would have something to hang on to if she tried to shove me all the way inside.

“Okay, look,” I said. “Try to pay attention, Miss Evans.”

“Don’t start that Miss Evans crap again.”

“I’m sorry. Gertrude --”

“Yes, darling.”

She drew still closer to me. In fact she was pressing the whole front part of her body against the front of my own corporeal host. I held onto the door jamb, but as I had noticed before, she was surprisingly strong, and it was all I could do not to fall backwards into the Ugly Mug with her on top of me.

“Listen,” I said, “I can’t -- you know -- I can’t --”

“You can’t wait? But darling we have all the time, all the time in the world.”

Suddenly she had my arm in an elbow lock while simultaneously she pressed the handle of her umbrella against my solar plexus and shoved her leg between mine. I felt my grip on the doorframe loosening.

“Have you ever done it in a crowded place, Arnold?”


“Made love in a crowded place. Like a bar.”

“No,” I said, gritting my teeth as she put more pressure on my elbow, my inguinal area, and the pit of my stomach. “I’ve barely ever done it in an uncrowded place.”

“Ha ha,” she said. “I want to bite your ear.”

“Hey, Arnold,” said a familiar voice. “And Gertrude. What are you two doing standing out here in the doorway? Come in and join the party.”

Miss Evans relaxed her three-pronged assault on my person, and I was able to turn to see who had spoken.

It was that man DeVore, I couldn’t remember his first name. Standing behind him, looking very pale but smiling bravely, was his wife, whatever her name was. He wore a yellow tennis shirt and plaid bermudas. She wore a pale blue dress that ballooned out at her waist like a bell.

“Oh,” said Miss Evans. “It’s you two.”

“Yeah, so come on in. This band is really swinging.” It was the same jazz combo who had been here the night before, they were even playing “Caravan” again, just as they had that previous night which felt somehow as if it had happened two years ago. “Hear those cats swing, Arnold?”

“Yeah, they’re swinging,” I said.

“Arnold has been trying to talk me into going in,” said Miss Evans. She stroked my arm. “But I have my heart set on taking a nap.”

“Ah, gee, Gertrude,” said DeVore, “you’ve got the rest of your life to take naps. Come on in, you two, ‘cause we’re buying. Right, honey?”

“I’m only having ginger ale,” said Mrs. DeVore. She did look unwell.

“Sure, whatever, honey,” said DeVore, without looking at her. His face was bright red, his eyes were glossy. “Come on,” he said. “Please have a drink with us. Please.”

“Some other time,” said Miss Evans.

“Aww,” said DeVore.

Suddenly I had a brainwave.

“Well, maybe just one,” I said, and I put a hand on Miss Evans’s back and guided her all the way through the doorway.

“Aw, swell,” said DeVore.

Miss Evans turned and glared at me, but I ignored her, stepping across the threshold, closing up my umbrella and batting my eyes in an impersonation of wide-eyed innocence.

“Where are you sitting?” I asked DeVore.

“We’ve got a booth right down the side there,” he said, pointing to the left of the bar, which has a paper-clip shape and runs down the middle of the place.

“Great, let’s go,” I said.

“Aw, gee,” said DeVore, “we’re gonna have fun! Right, honey?”

“Sure, but I’m only drinking ginger ale,” said Mrs. DeVore.

“Whatever,” said DeVore, smiling and shaking his head as if in wonderment at his amazing good fortune.

“Oh, well, lead the way then,” said Miss Evans.

“Sure, follow us,” said DeVore, and he grabbed Mrs. DeVore and headed down the crowded barroom. I made to follow them but Miss Evans stopped me cold with her strong hot hand on my arm.

“Have you gone quite mad, Arnold?”

“Oh, just one drink,” I said.

“But those two are absolutely the most boring people I have ever met in my entire life.”

“But we would hurt their feelings if we refused.”

“Who gives a damn?”
She was speaking in more of an American accent now.
“We’ll just have one,” I said.

“Well, I suppose we’ll have to, now,” she said.

“One and done,” I said.

(Continued here, and until the Tea Party assumes power.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other legally-available chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, brought to you in part by Juicy Fruit©, the official chewing gum of the Arnold Schnabel Society© of Philadelphia.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Shirley From Sheboygan"

Shirley came out onto Eighth Avenue, put her old Gladstone bag down on the pavement, and lit up a cigarette. It had been a short bus ride from Philadelphia, a town that hadn’t worked out well for her. Neither had Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, or especially her hometown of Sheboygan. But she was still young, still blond, and still beautiful, if perhaps not unspoiled.

“Hey, doll,” said a weedy looking man. He wore a shiny grey suit and a grey hat and he was somewhere in age between twenty-five and forty. His skin was grey and his eyes were blue. He had a toothpick in his mouth and he was either smiling or grimacing in pain. “You look like you could use a drink. How about you and I adjourn to a nearby watering hole and have a cocktail or three? I am buying.”

Shirley was a little low on cash and so she went across the street with the weedy guy into a bar that was just filling up with the after-work crowd. When the guy went off to the men’s room after his fourth glass of Rheingold she picked up her Gladstone, walked out, went up the street, took a right on 41st and went into another bar. She took a stool, ordered a ginger ale, opened up her purse on her lap, and took out the weedy guy’s wallet. Some useless cards, sixteen bucks, a French letter, and what looked like a marijuana cigarette. She took out a dollar bill to pay for her ginger ale and put the wallet back in her purse, along with her own lucky Girl Scout wallet, her lipstick and compact, her cigarettes and lighter, an opened roll of Wint-O-Green Life Savers, a handkerchief, and her Colt .32 automatic.

Shirley From Sheboygan, by Hannah Peterson Stone (Horace P. Sternwall), a Monarch paperback original; 1955.

(Scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to the opening passages of many other strangely out-of-print classics from the battered Royal portable of Horace P. Sternwall. “To be quite honest these obscure noir novels of Sternwall’s make those of his contemporaries Jim Thompson and David Goodis look positively soft-boiled.” -- Harold Bloom, in The Cape May Herald.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 246: rescue

Let us return to the quaint seaside resort of Cape May, New Jersey, on a rainy Sunday afternoon in August of 1963, and to our hero Arnold Schnabel, who has just encountered an old acquaintance: the languid and mysterious Magda…

(Go here to read our previous chapter; click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 63-volume masterpiece of the memoirist’s art.)

“Bursting onto the scene amidst the death-throes of post-post-modernism, the serial publication of Arnold Schnabel’s autobiography created an entirely new literary movement: ‘Arnold Schnabelism’.” -- Harold Bloom in Field & Stream.

“Where is he stopping, your friend Josh.”

“He’s at the Chalfonte,” I said, without thinking, as is so often the case with me.

“Perhaps I should go over there and pay him a visit. Put a cold compress on his forehead.”

“Oh,” I said, “well, uh, I think he just wants to, you know, sleep it off?”

“Don’t worry, I wasn’t serious. I’m not the nursing type.”


She still stood with her back against the door frame. Inside the bar Ursula was blowing a saxophone solo to “Stardust”. The tables and the bar were full of chattering people paying no attention to the music. Magda took a drag of her cigarette, staring out at the rain. Her eyes were a marbled grey.

She muttered something in a foreign language.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“I said maybe I should stick to playing my piano. ‘Cause I sure as hell stink at picking men. Junkies, bunko artists, cheap chiselers, four-flushers and crooks. And drunks like this Josh character.”

“Josh is a nice guy,” I said.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” she said. “You seem like a good Joe, too bad you had a mental breakdown and don’t have a job. Have you had lunch.”

“Pardon me?”

“Lunch, have you eaten it.”

“No,” I said, “but I had a late breakfast.”

“Why don’t we go upstairs and blow some gage. I always keep some squirreled away for a rainy day. And as you notice it’s raining.”

“I really can’t stay, I’m afraid.”

“Dying to get away, aren’t you.”

“Well, I have some things I have to do.”

“On a Sunday.”


“Don’t let me keep you then.”

“Well, I wanted to see someone else here actually.”


“It’s a woman sitting at one of the tables. Her name is Gertrude Evans.”

“So you’re a ladies’ man.”

“No, I just wanted to have a quick word with her. About something.”

“Very mysterious. You seem somehow familiar to me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like I met you a long time ago. In a dream perhaps. Because you looked different then. Now I remember. It was this strange poet fellow in Greenwich Village, one night some years ago when I was jamming with Freddy and my grandmother at this dive called the Kettle of Fish. Have you ever been there.”

She of course was remembering meeting me in Miss Evans’s novel, when I was the romantic young poet Porter Walker. How odd that her real life had coincided with Miss Evans’s fictional universe. I hadn’t realized that such a thing was possible.

“The Kettle of Fish,” I said. “Um -- uh --”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Magda. “It wasn’t you, obviously. So are you coming in.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You seem perturbed somehow.”

“Yes, I suppose I am.”

“So we’re both perturbed.”


“Come in then.”

“After you,” I said.

“Such a gentleman,” she said.

She started to turn and then Lucky was standing in the doorway.

“Well, well, well,” he said.

He was wearing an ash-colored suit again, although obviously a different one than the one he’d had on the previous night, which had been all in smoking rags the last time I had seen it. Otherwise he looked the same, tall, shiny black hair, a black moustache, holding a thick strong-smelling cigarette.

“Who is your lovely friend, Arnold?” he asked.

I said nothing.

“You won’t introduce me?” he said, smiling.

Again I said nothing.

Ignoring me Lucky offered his hand to Magda.

“My name is Lucky.”

She looked at his hand, but far from taking it in hers she put her cigarette holder’s stem between her lips, took a drag and slowly let the smoke out in Lucky’s face.

His smile faded and he lowered his hand.

“Magda,” I said, “would you --”

“Ah, so your name is Magda,” said Lucky to Magda. “My name is Lucky.”

“A rather puerile name for a grown man,” she said.

“Ha ha. A woman of spirit.”

“Ha ha. A man of idiocy,” she said.

“Excuse us, Magda,” I said, “Mr. Lucky and I are just going to have a word outside here.”

“Be my guest,” she said. “Anyway, Freddy wants me to sit in on the piano next number.”

“Oh, you play?” said Lucky. “I can’t wait to hear you.”

“Then hurry back and don’t forget to leave a buck in the tip jar.”

“Oh, I shall.”

“I’ll talk to you later, Mr. Schnabel,” said Magda. She walked away, I stepped back from the doorway, keeping my eye on Lucky. He came out and stood facing me at a distance of about two feet. The rain beat down on the awning over our heads.

“I can only give you a moment, old boy,” he said. “I have to get back to a lady.”

“Miss Evans.”

“Yes. The lovely Miss Evans.”

“I’m going to tell her who you are.”

“Do it and she’ll think you’re quite mad.”

“Why don’t you leave her alone?”

“What kind of a stupid question is that? My dear fellow, this is what I do. I tempt people and then I get them to give up their eternal souls.”

“I suppose you derive some enjoyment from that.”

“Yes, I do, actually. Oh, and don’t worry, I’ll get you too, eventually.”

“Would you mind getting out of my way, please.”


“Because I’m going in there to talk to Miss Evans.”

“It won’t do you any good.”

I made a step to go around him, but he stepped in my way.

“I could easily toss you across the street,” he said.

“That wouldn’t look good for you,” I said. “Calling attention to yourself like that.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right. Perhaps on another day I wouldn’t give a damn (you should pardon the expression), but I’m so close to getting La Evans to sign on the dotted line, I’d hate to blow the deal now. So go ahead, go in. Make an ass of yourself. Ha ha. I’ll give you one minute while I stand here and finish my cigarette and stare out at the rain. Reminds me of the Great Deluge. That was back when the man upstairs really knew how to keep humans in their place. Of course nowadays men do a pretty good job of mass-murdering each other without the big guy’s help. Ha ha.”

I brushed past him and went into the place. Miss Evans was sitting by the window with her back to me. She was smoking a cigarette and looking over her shoulder in the general direction of Freddy, who was singing “Lullaby of Broadway” now, with Magda accompanying him on electric piano while Ursula stood holding her saxophone and nodding, waiting for her moment to come in.

I walked over to Miss Evans. On the table were the remains of two pieces of chocolate cake, two coffee cups, a couple of drinks in snifters, a shiny blue woman’s purse, an opened pack of Marlboros, a book of Pilot House matches.

She looked up at me and blinked, as if she weren’t quite sure who I was.

She wore a dress I didn’t remember seeing before before. It had a pattern like something you would see on a color television set after a child had been playing with the horizontal and vertical dials. She wore a small blue pillbox hat off to one side of her head, and her hair was arranged so that it hid the bruise on her forehead.

“Oh. Arnold,” she said. “How terribly nice to see you. And. How was your little mass. Did you see Father Reilly. Did you talk to him. Did he say anything about me.”

“I didn’t go to mass,” I said. “Listen, Miss Evans --”


“Gertrude --

“Why didn’t you go to mass. Won’t you go to hell now?”

“Only if I die,” I said.

“Oh, good.”

“Listen, Gertrude --

“Yes. Spit it out.”

“This guy you’re with, this Lucky guy --”

“Oh, you’re not going to start on that again, are you?”

“He’s no good,” I said.

“Oh really?”


“And you know this for certain?”

“Yes,” I said.

“And how do you know this. What in hell have you got against him. Do you hate him just because he’s taken me to lunch? Are you jealous, is that it?”

“No,” I said.

“Then what is it. Because how dare you. How dare you dare to tell me with whom I may or may not lunch. How dare you --”

“He’s the Devil,” I said.


“He’s the Devil.”

“Oh, my, the Devil.”


“I’ll say this,” she said, “he’s a handsome devil.”

“You should come with me,” I said.

“Come with you?”


“What, now?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Oh. Then you do care.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Arnold, dear, that’s all I wanted to hear. But I can’t just get up and leave, darling. We’re talking about a contract, Lucky and I.”

“A contract.”

“A movie contract,” said Lucky, who was suddenly by my side, rubbing his hands together. “I think Miss Evans’s books would make fabulous movies.”

“Let’s go, Gertrude,” I said.

“Well, if you insist,” she said, and she stubbed out her cigarette in her dessert dish. I don’t think she meant to be coarse. I think she was simply drunk.

“Hey,” said Lucky.

Miss Evans put her hands on the table and stood up, knocking the chair back, but I quickly grabbed it before it could fall. She stared down at the table for a moment, then picked up the pack of Marlboros and her purse, then put down the cigarettes again while she clicked open the purse. She stared into the purse.

“Where’s my cigarettes?” she asked.

I picked the Marlboros up and dropped them into the purse.

“Why thank you, Arnold.”

I put a hand under her arm, the way I had seen men do in movies if not so much in real life.

“Unbelievable,” said Lucky.

“Oh, wait,” said Miss Evans. “Where’s my umbrella?”

“It’s hanging on a hook by the door,” said Lucky.

“Oh, good. And thank you ever so much for giving me lunch, Mr. Lucky. We’ll talk again soon.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“About contracts and things.”

“Why don’t you let me give you a lift home? I’ve got my Jag right outside.”

“No thank you, you see I simply adore walking in the rain.”

“Why don’t I draw up the papers and I’ll meet you say later this evening.”

“Oh my so soon.”

“I’d like to strike while the iron is hot.”

“It’s not as if all Hollywood is beating down my door dear boy.”

“How about I pick you up at seven say. I’ll take you to dinner.”

“Lunch and dinner in one day, oh my.”

I gave her arm a gentle tug.

“So I’ll pick you up at seven then,” said Lucky.

She shrugged her arm away from my hand and opened up her purse again, took out her cigarettes.

“Wait,” she said, looking at Lucky, “you don’t even know where I’m staying.”

“Of course I know where you’re staying,” he said.

She took out a cigarette, dropped the rest of the pack back into her purse, snapped it shut.

“Wait,” she said. “How do you know where I’m staying?”

“You told me. Heh heh.”

She put the cigarette in her lips, and -- just to annoy Lucky, who was reaching for his lighter -- I stepped in between him and Miss Evans, laid my umbrella on the table, and in one fluid motion grabbed the book of Pilot House matches off the tablecloth, tore a match off, and gave Miss Evans a light.

Exhaling smoke she touched the gold ring on my left hand as I shook out the match with my right hand.

“Where did you get this ring, Arnold?” she asked.

“Um, Mr. Arbuthnot gave it to me.”

I tossed the match into the ashtray on the table, picked up my umbrella again.

“Who the hell is Mr. Arbuthnot?” she said.

“A little old man who runs a curio shop on Washington Street.”

“Oh, bother these little old men! I’ve never seen so many little old men as in this benighted town.”

Her accent had gotten English again.

Lucky wasn’t even looking at her now. He was looking at me.

“So now you have the ring,” he said.

“Why can’t he have a ring?” said Miss Evans.

“No reason,” said Lucky. “No reason at all.”

“You know, old chap,” she said to him, “I really don’t remember telling you where I’m stopping.”

“Sure you did. You’re ‘stopping’ at Arnold’s aunts’ house.”

“Oh. So I must have told you,” she said in her normal accent, or anyway her most-normal accent.

“Let’s make it seven o’clock then,” said Lucky. “I’ll swing by in the Jag, we’ll take a run out to the Lobster House. You like lobster?”

“I adore lobster but oh no I just remembered I shall be otherwise engaged.”

“You will.”

“Yes, I promised Arnold here I’d meet him for drinks this evening at Phil’s Tavern.”

“Phil’s Tavern? Where’s Phil’s Tavern?”

“Pete’s Tavern,” I interpolated.

“That’s what I said,” said Miss Evans.

“Oh. Pete’s,” said Lucky. “The Negro bar.”

“Yes,” said Miss Evans. “Filled with joyous happy Negroes!”

“I don’t know what they have to be so joyous about,” said Lucky. He was quite blatantly staring at my ring now.

“No need to get all in an uproar,” said Miss Evans.

He didn’t say anything.

I gave her arm a pull, we went over to the coat rack, she found her umbrella, or at any rate she took an umbrella, all the while talking about how she was pretty sure this was her umbrella. As a gentleman should, I let her go out the door first.

I glanced back. Lucky was still standing over there, looking at me.

Ursula was playing another saxophone solo, and Freddy and Magda played along on their respective instruments, seemingly lost in their music even though no one in the crowded room seemed to be listening.

I followed Miss Evans out the doorway.

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

(Please look to the right hand side of this page for a listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, the perfect thing to read on your iPhone as you grimly ride the train to and from that mind-numbing job, if you still have a job.)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 245: stood up

A rainy Sunday in August of 1963 in the quaint seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey, and our hero Arnold Schnabel prepares to leave Mr. Arbuthnot’s Whatnot Shoppe...

(Go here to read our preceding chapter; new students may click here to go back to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 42-volume masterwork of the memoirist’s art.)

“How often when reading Arnold Schnabel’s massive chef-d'œuvre have I not experienced that transcendent sense of timeless disincorporation which the Oriental sages speak of?” -- Harold Bloom in The Cape May Pennysaver.

“Maybe, I say just maybe,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, “you shouldn’t keep that ring stowed away so casually in your pocket.”


“What if there’s a hole in it.”

“In my pocket?”

“I didn’t mean the ring.”

“There isn’t a hole in it,” I said. “In my pocket I mean. I think.”

“Perhaps now there isn’t. But perhaps later there will be. You never notice a hole in the pocket until you lose something. Your keys. Or a ring. A most valuable and irreplaceable ring.”

“Um, would you feel better if I put it in my wallet?”

“I’m not sure that I would. Feel better.”

“But you --”

“I know, I kept it in my own wallet. But my wallet has a tiny compartment which I can keep shut tight and secured by a sturdy steel clasp. Does your wallet come so equipped?”

“No, it’s just an ordinary wallet I’m afraid.”

“One of these newfangled 'billfolds' I suppose.”

“Well, uh --”

“May I see it?”

I took it out of my back pocket.

“Worst place in the world to keep your wallet you know. Might as well hang a sign on your back saying please steal my wallet.”

“I’ll remember that,” I said.

He took the wallet from my hand, flipped it open.

“Made from the finest Naugahyde I see. Robert Hall?”

“I think my mother picked it up at the men’s department in Sears, actually.”

“You have no photographs in here, in the little plastic windows.”


“Membership in the Knights of Columbus though I see.”

“Don’t ask me why,” I said.

“And is their power as far-reaching and insidious as I have heard?”

“No, you may be thinking of the Society of Jesus,” I said.

He closed the wallet up and handed it back to me. I put it away in my back pocket.

“I would feel better if you put the ring on your finger,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

“I’m not much of a one for wearing rings,” I said.

“I see,” he said, his bulging little eyes behind his glasses turning their gaze from my empty hand to the one that held the umbrella handle. “Not even an old school ring.”

“I never finished school. Except for grade school.”

“And they don’t give out rings for being graduated from grade school.”


“I would feel much better if you wore the ring, old man.”

“Well, okay.”

“Here, I’ll hold your umbrella.”

I gave him the umbrella, dug the ring back out of my pocket.

“Your fingers are quite thick, aren’t they,” said Mr. Arbuthnot.

They’d always seemed average to me, but I suppose to a man as tiny as Mr. Arbuthnot they might appear thick.

“Try the little finger,” he said.

“Which hand?”

“I assure you that is a matter of complete indifference to me and probably you and certainly to the rest of the universe, but try the left hand.”

With only moderate difficulty and bearable pain I managed to screw the thing onto my left little finger.

“How does it feel, my boy?”

“A little tight,” I said.

“You’ll get used to it.” He handed me my umbrella back. “Good luck.”

“Thank you.”

“I hope to see you again soon.”

“I’ll make it back as soon as I can,” I said.

“The sooner the better.”

“Okay then --”

“Wait. Better let me check to see if that copper’s around. Stand back.”

He opened the door and went out into the entranceway. I held the door open. Staying under his awning Mr. Arbuthnot bent forward and looked up and down the rainy street. He turned back to me, waving.

“Quickly. Here come some citizens. Just slip in behind them.”

I came out.

In an exaggeratedly hearty-sounding voice Mr. Arbuthnot said, “Thank you for dropping by, sir, and I hope you’ll stop in again soon. Better open up your umbrella now, cats and dogs out here.”

I opened the umbrella.

“Bad for our visitors, the rain,” he continued in the loud voice, “at least for those who like to lie on the sand in the blistering sun, but good for the farmers, that’s what I always say.”

He extended his right hand, and I took it. It felt less like a human body part than like something composed of vegetable matter, a small knot of dry twigs which I might easily crush if I weren’t careful.

Leaning close, Mr. Arbuthnot whispered, “Go! Go now, and god speed!”

Then, pulling on my hand and my elbow with a surprising force he threw me out into the rain behind a passing family group consisting of a husband and wife, each with an umbrella, and four small babbling children without umbrellas, one child stomping along at either side of each parent.

Hobbling with my sore legs I followed them down Washington and across Decatur, the children stamping purposefully into the water streaming in the gutters. I didn’t want to have to go by Wally’s again, so I let the family continue down the street while I waited for the light to turn and then crossed to the opposite corner of Washington. The Ugly Mug’s front door was open, I could hear midday revelry inside. The bars around here always did a roaring trade on rainy days. Lowering my umbrella to avoid the risk of being seen by some bibulous acquaintance within (and possibly being dragged inside) I hastened my stride down Decatur, past the side entrance of the Mug and down to the Pilot House next door, and there sitting inside a rain-wet window sat Miss Evans, smoking a cigarette and apparently talking to a dark-haired man facing away from me but towards her.

My first thought was probably what it now normally was whenever I saw Miss Evans, something like “Oh no” or “Oh Christ”, but my second thought was that I suddenly remembered that I had agreed to meet her for a drink at Pete’s Tavern, around six-ish, as if I didn’t already have enough on my plate for one day.

I quickly lowered my umbrella again and hurried past where she was sitting, past the entrance (from which exuded the inimitable dulcet stylings of Freddy Ayres, singing “Stardust” to the accompaniment of his accordion) and then on to the far corner of the building, where I stopped.

I stopped and stood there, holding my umbrella now directly above my head, because I had just remembered that Miss Evans had made another date, a date to meet Lucky for lunch, and that the dark-haired man she was sitting with must be he.

I stood there, the unrelenting rain clattering down so loudly on my umbrella that it felt like I was standing inside a drum being played by a thousand miniature madmen.

Right up ahead was Carpenters Lane. I only had to make a right here, walk one block to Jackson, cross the street and go down a couple of doors and I would be at Elektra’s shop. Even with my impaired stride I could be there in a minute and a half.

But I felt guilty. Guilty of what? Guilty of letting Miss Evans have lunch with Lucky? As if I could prevent her anyway? And had I not tried to warn her? I took one step, and then stopped again. No, I couldn’t go on. I would go back and go into the Pilot House. As annoying as Miss Evans was I would feel eternally guilty if I discovered that she had sold her eternal soul to Lucky without my making at least one last effort to get her to see who he really was, if she cared.

Sighing, and staring down at my wet cordovans, I turned around and walked back towards the entrance.

“Well, look who the cat dragged in from the rain.”

It was Magda, leaning against the door post, smoking a cigarette in a holder. She wore a black sleeveless dress. Her skin glowed palely in the watery grey daylight. I stepped under the awning and closed up my umbrella. I went up the couple of steps to the entrance. She had her blond hair done up in a different style from the way she had worn it the night before, although I couldn’t say how it was different.

“Hello, Magda.”

“Mister Schnabel. I have been waiting.”

“For me?”

“No. Not for you. For your friend Josh.”

“Oh. Josh.”

“Not very punctual, is he?”

“I -- um --”

“I thought you told me he was a nice guy.”

“I did?”

“Or words to that effect.”

“Well, he is a nice, uh, guy.”

“Then why is he standing me up? We had a luncheon date for noon. The bastard.”

How could I tell her that he must still be trapped in the universe of Miss Evans’s novel? Clearly I couldn’t. Sometimes a white lie really is the best option.

“He’s been taken ill,” I said. “He sent me to, to give his apologies, and to beg your forgiveness, and to tell you that he would be delighted to take you to dinner just as soon as he feels up to it.”

“You mean he’s hungover,” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “That’s it.”

(Continued here, if only because of certain inescapable legal obligations.)

(Kindly go to the right hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other legally accessible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Tickets still available for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Spring Dance at the VFW on Chew Avenue, featuring the musical stylings of Freddy Ayres and Ursula, with special guest Magda on the piano. Ticket price includes unlimited Schmidt’s beer and your choice of “kielbasa-and-sauerkraut” or “hot roast beef” sandwiches, plus a tasty assortment of cookies and cakes.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"The Doomed", Part Six

Illustrations by Rhoda Penmarq

As seen on the Dumont Network's Horace P. Sternwall Playhouse

(Check your local newspaper for availability in your area)

The thrilling conclusion of this very special mini-series event

Available exclusively at "flashing by"

Saturday, April 2, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 244: sang-froid

Let’s rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel and the aged Mr. Arbuthnot in that latter gentlemen’s kitchen in his rooms above his quaint little “Whatnot Shoppe”, in the quaint little seaside town of Cape May, New Jersey, on this rainy Sunday in August of 1963...

(Click here to read our previous episode; the adventurous may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 72-volume masterpiece.)

“American literature -- nay, world literature -- may be neatly divided into three eras: ‘Pre-Arnold Schnabel’, ‘Arnold Schnabel’ and ‘Post-Arnold Schnabel’.” -- Harold Bloom in Good Housekeeping.

“Sit down, old man, and let me see what hidden treasures I can dig up in here.”

I took a chair, folded my hands on the table.

“Really sorry by the way about all that business out there,” said Mr. Arbuthnot as he set to work unscrewing lids from jars and rummaging through cupboards and drawers.

“Well, it wasn’t your fault,” I said.

“No, no, I suppose it wasn’t, but still I’m sorry that you got shanghaied into all this.”

“It’s no great hardship for me just to bicycle to the docks or a farm and back each day,” I said, and I imagined a slight halo around my head.

“Well, now, that there is an admirable way to look at it, my boy. A vigorous daily bout of exercise in the fresh air, best thing in the world for you. Provided you don’t have an accident, fall under the wheels of a garbage truck. Damn it, I think that Jones fellow has been digging into all my little stashes. Oh, but wait, here we go, sitting right here in a saucer.”

He turned around -- he was at the kitchen sink -- and showed me a fat, hand-rolled cigarette, only one-third smoked.

“Now we’re talking,” he said, and he came over to the table and sat across from me. On the table was an unclean ashtray of smoky blue glass. “The St Crispian Hotel,” it read, in flaked gilt, “At Your Comfort We Excel”. Mr. Arbuthnot knocked the bowl of his pipe empty into the ashtray, then pocketed the pipe, took out his book of matches and lit the reefer. He took several good drags, and held in the smoke.

“I gotta say,” he said, in a constricted voice, still holding in the smoke, “I’m impressed by your sang-froid, my boy. Most people would get just a trifle upset at the sight and sound of a talking cat.” He let out a great cloud of smoke in my direction, and when it cleared I could see that he was smiling. “You are one cool customer, Daddy-o. Here, take a hit.”

He extended the reefer. I took it, without meaning to, without meaning not to. And with the same absence of will I took a deep drag, and held the smoke in.

“There ya go, pal,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, “You’re no square. Holding it in like a good fellow.”

Finally I exhaled.

“I have a friend who is a talking fly,” I said.

“A talking fly?”



“Yes,” I said. “So, you know --”

In a circular motion I waved the hand that held the reefer, as if this waving would somehow translate my thoughts.

“So a talking cat,” said Mr. Arbuthnot, “is no big deal for you.” He got up from his seat, reached across the table and took the reefer from my fingers. He sat back, took a couple of short drags and held in the smoke. “And this talking, uh, fly friend, he -- is it a he?”

“Yes,” I said. “At least I’m pretty sure he’s a he.”

“And he is -- he is in addition to your friend who is Jesus.”

“Yes, he’s a different friend. I just met the fly last night.”


He finally exhaled, again blowing the smoke straight across the table at me.

“You see,” I said, “I found myself exiled in this book I was reading --”

“Hold on. Back up. You were exiled in a book?”

“Yes,” I said. He proffered the reefer. I took it and had another drag. “The Devil knew I didn’t like the book, so he exiled me in it, to get back at me.”

“Why did he want to get back at you?”

I was holding in the smoke, I was getting almost expert at this.

“I say why did the devil want to get back at you,” repeated Mr, Arbuthnot.

“Oh,” I said, finally exhaling, “we had had a couple of altercations, he and I. And I suppose I had gotten the better of him both times. So he was angry. Anyway it was in the world of this book that I met this talking fly.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“So, anyway, I managed to trick the Devil again, he was in the novel too, he was a publicist named Nicky Boskins --”

“Nicky Boskins.”

“Yeah, although in this world, the one we’re in now, he goes by the name of Lucky.”


“Yeah.” I took another drag, then another. “Anyway, I tricked him again and I made it back to this world, and somehow the fly came with me.”

“I see. And where is this fly now?”

“I guess he’s still back at my aunts’ place.”

“I suppose you didn’t want him tagging along to your tryst with -- Calliope is it?”


“Elektra,” he said. “Hey, pass that stick back, will you?”

“Oh, sorry,” I said. I handed it over to him. I watched him smoking it, then pushed my chair back, got up and went over to look out the open window over the sink. We were in the back of the building, and outside was Lyle Lane. The rain fell unremitting on the old houses, the trees and bushes and gardens. Down the street to the left I recognized Mrs. Davenport’s big ramshackle house, where Mr. Jones lived, if he still lived, if you could call what he did living, and I suppose one must.

“Damn,” I said.

“What’s the matter, buddy?”

I turned.

“I just remembered,” I said. “Again. I mean I remembered it earlier and then I forgot it again --”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“I’m supposed to be getting together with this guy today to work on a screenplay, and I’m already almost three hours late.”

“Who’s this ‘guy’?”

“His name’s Larry Winchester. He’s a movie director.”

“Larry Winchester. What movies has he directed?”

“Let me see, what did he tell me. Uh, Two For Tortuga?”

Two For Tortuga. Hmm. Don’t know it. What else?”

The Vacant City?”


Several Lonely People?”

“Don’t think so.”

Return of the 300 Spartans?”

“Sounds good but no.”

Stopover in Singapore?”

“Stopover where?”

Stopover in Singapore.”

“No, sorry.”

Mademoiselle 38? Ask Not The Hangman? White Slave Ship? Assignment in Bangalore?

”Didn’t you say that last one already?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Oh, right, that was the Stopover one.”

In Singapore,” I said.

“These are all talkies, right?”


This was getting dull. I turned around to look out the window again.

“What are you staring at out there?”

“Nothing,” I said. “The rain, the trees.”

“Ah, yes, the glories of nature.”

I glanced at my watch. It was almost one o’clock. I turned away from the window again.

“Well, look,” I said, “this has been -- interesting --”

“Well put.”

“But I should be going.”

“Yes, our master plan.”

He got up from his seat, took another drag from the reefer and offered it again to me. I went over and took it, it was very small now, barely smokeable, but I carefully took a couple of small drags. It was only then that I remembered that I had not wanted to smoke reefer, but it was too late now. I passed it back to him. He took one last little drag himself and put the stub out in the ashtray.

“Okay, let’s split,” he said.

We made our way out of the kitchen, Mr. Arbuthnot leading the way. Shnooby was still sleeping soundly on the dining room table. Mr. Arbuthnot turned to me, smiling, and held a finger to his lips.

We crossed into the living room and to the stairhead, and -- this time with me leading the way -- we went downstairs.

Back in his shop Mr. Arbuthnot reminded me not to forget my umbrella. I thanked him, headed across the room, took the umbrella out of the priceless Ming Dynasty vase, and finally Mr. Arbuthnot and I stood on either side of the front door, looking out at the sidewalk, the street, the rain.

“You won’t forget the seafood for Shnooby?”

I sighed.

“Do you think he’ll mind if I take a little while?” I asked.

“It all depends on how long he sleeps and on how long you take. Are you having second thoughts?”

“Well, it’s just a question of -- you know --”

“Fitting it into your busy schedule.”

“Yes," I said.

“I’m sure you’ll manage.”

“I’ll try.”

“If I were you I shouldn’t want to disappoint Shnooby.”

“Yes,” I said. “I probably shouldn’t.”

“Not if you value your life.”


“Just joking. Ha ha. I’m sure things won’t have to go quite that far. Look, here come the first of the worshipers I think, making their way home from church.”


“And there’s some across the street heading for luncheon at the Cape Coffee Shoppe. Have you had their pies?”

“Yes,” I said, “they’re not bad.”

“Might I ask one question before you slip away.”


“Why did Wally lay that stuff on you, man?”

“I have no idea.”

“That bastard. I wonder if he has more?”

“I think he might,” I said. “He seemed to imply that he did.”

Suddenly Mr. Arbuthnot came over to me and grabbed one of my lapels in each of his small old fists.

Don’t toy with me, pal.

“I’m not,” I said. “It’s just that he said something about maybe my coming back for more. If I liked it.”

“Then he must have it!”

“I couldn’t say for certain,” I said.

“Damn his eyes. Do you think you could buy some from him for me?”

“Is it legal?”

“Legality be damned!”

“But -- excuse me, Mr. Arbuthnot, why can’t you just go over there yourself and --”

“Because that man hates me! And I despise him. We’ve been crossing the street when one of us sees the other coming for years, decades --”


“Out of the question. I wouldn’t lower myself. So what do you say? Can you help me out?”

He still had his hands on my lapels.

“All right, I’ll see what I can do,” I said.

“Why don’t you go over there now?”

“Mr. Arbuthnot, please, I already told you that --”

“Oh, I know, I know, your precious Eleutheria --”

“And I have to meet this guy Larry, too, remember, and get Shnooby his seafood --”

“Yes, yes.” He finally let go of my lapels, and smoothed them out with his fingers, or at least went through the motions of smoothing them out. “Forgive me. But perhaps on the way to my place with Shnooby’s food you could drop by at Wally’s --”

“All right,” I said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Whatever you do, don’t say it’s for me.”

“I won’t.”

“But wait. He won’t sell it cheap, you can count on that, now that he thinks you’re hooked.”

“How much do you think he’ll charge?”

“Good question. The moon? The stars? Or merely the earth? Damn his eyes, damn him and all he stands for.”

“Uh --” I put my hand on the door knob.

“Wait,” said the old man

I waited, but I kept my hand on the door knob.

He reached inside his jacket and brought out an old cracked brown leather wallet. He unfolded it and then undid a metal clasp over a tiny compartment. He dug his finger and thumb into the little pocket and brought out a plain gold ring, or at least a golden-colored ring.

“Here,” he said. “Offer this to Wally. But make sure you’ve got the stuff in your other hand before you give him this.”

I took my hand off the door knob it and took the ring. I held it up and looked at it in the grey light that came in from the street.

“Valuable ring, huh?”

“Valuable, you ask? Tell me, are you familiar with Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen?”

Just to move things along I said, “Sure.”

“Then you remember the titular ring in that operatic cycle, and its awful powers?”

“The powers of the ring?”

“Yes, of the legendary ring of the Nibelung.”

“Its powers.”

“Yes, do you remember its awful powers?”

“Uh, sure.”

“Well, that ring, my boy, that unassuming little band of gold in your hand right there makes the ring in Der Ring des Nibelungen look like something that came out of a Cracker Jack box!”

“Okay, then,” I said, “I’ll take good care of it.”

And I dropped it into my right trousers pocket.

(Continued here, for various inexplicable reasons.)

(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, along with a separate listing of links to many of his beloved poems, suitable for recitation as a final statement before the jury adjourns to decide one’s fate.)