Monday, November 28, 2011

tales of the hotel st Crispian: chapter 37

"My name is Hyacinth Wilde"

by Horace P. Sternwall

edited by Dan Leo*

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

*Ass’t Professor of Epistemology, Ass’t Homeroom Coordinator, Olney Community College; editor of A Foul Wind; “The Ben Blagwell” Novels of Horace P. Sternwall, Vol. I: A Foul Wind for Jakarta; A Devil Called Minnie; Backstreets of Bangkok; Tramp Steamer; Olney Community College Press.

for complete episode, click here

Saturday, November 26, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 278: Sid

Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his ancient companion Mr. Jones – having been disembarked at a fog-shrouded place known variously as the Island of Lost Souls, the Place with no Name, the Port of Grim Shadows, or Nowheresville – must now deal with a knife-wielding stranger in a zoot suit...

(Please click here to read our previous chapter; curious newcomers may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 69-volume memoir.)

“Although he lived his life in relative obscurity, Arnold Schnabel has by now assumed his well-justified place among those giants of 20th century literature: Marcel Proust, James Joyce, and Horace P. Sternwall.” -- Harold Bloom, on The Nate Berkus Show.

“All right, mate,” said the man. “Nice and easy now, let’s see your wallet, and no funny business or I’ll perforate you right good and don’t believe I won’t. Sid the Shiv they calls me and not without good reason.”

“Sid the what?” said Mr. Jones.

“The Shiv,” said the man. “Sid the Shiv.”

“Thought you said Sid the Shit.”

“Right. Don’t push me, grandpa. I got what they call a sociopathic personality.”

“What’s that? Shrink-talk for being an asshole?”

“I’m warnin’ ya. Button your lip, gramps, I got a little respect for me elders but not a lot.”

“I don’t fucking believe this,” said Mr. Jones. “Even in the goddam afterworld we gotta worry about cheap little hoods and switchblade artists.”

“What made you think it would be any different?” said the man, keeping the point of the blade about two inches from my throat. “By the way, I’ll wanta see your wallet too, granddad.”

“Fuck you,” said Mr. Jones.

“’Fuck you’?” said the man. “Howzabout I give your boyfriend here a little fuck you?”

And he brought the point of the knife even closer to my throat.

“Okay,” I said, “take it easy.” And I reached into the back pocket of my bermudas for my wallet.

“Don’t give it to him, Arnie boy,” said Mr. Jones.

“But –”

The man stuck his knife’s point right up to the skin of my throat, just to the left of my Adam’s apple.

“Nice and easy, chum,” he said.

I got my wallet out of my pocket, but I was understandably nervous, and it slipped from my fingers and fell to the cobblestones at my feet.

“Oh,” I said.

“You playin’ games with me, chum?” said the man in the zoot suit. I suppose I should call him Sid. Sid the Shiv. He poked the point of his knife at my throat. “I said you playin’ games with me?”

“No,” I said.

“Don’t move.”

“I won’t,” I said.

“I got my blade on you, boy.”

“I know,” I said.

“Just so you know that,” he said, and, keeping his knife arm outstretched, he started to bend down to pick the wallet up, but then suddenly stopped. “Oh, I get it,” he said, and he straightened up again, leaving the wallet where it was. “Oldest trick in the book. Distract a man and then cosh him. Where’s your cosh?”

“My what?”

“Your sap, your blackjack.”

“I don’t have one.”

He glanced at Mr. Jones.

“You, pops, pick up your clumsy friend’s wallet.”

“Fuck you,” said Mr. Jones.

“Pick it up or I give your pal an emergency tracheotomy.”

“You ain’t got the balls,” said Mr. Jones.

“Um, listen, sir,” I said. “I’ll pick it up.”

“All right,” he said. “Pick it up, but slow and easy like.”

“Okay,” I said, and I started to bend over.

“Oh, no,” said the guy.

“Pardon me?”

I was slightly bent over.

“Not that way, pal. Second oldest trick in the book. You bends over and comes up with a roundhouse right-hook haymaker in me breadbasket.”

“Really, I was just bending over to pick it up.”

“Don’t take the piss with me, mate.” Once again he held the knife’s point very close to my throat. “Don’t ever take the piss with me.”

“I’m not sure what that means,” I said.

“There ya go,” he said. “Takin’ the piss again, and I just told you not to.”

“But –”

“Okay. Bend your knees,” said the man, “slow and easy, facing me. Just like you was doin’ a deep-knee bend. Then when you get down far enough reach out your right hand – again, slow and easy like – and pick up the wallet. Then, slow and easy, rise up again, and hand me the wallet.”


“How you gonna do it?”

“Slow and easy?”

“That’s right.”

“Y’know, I really don’t have very much money in the wallet,” I said.

“Slow and easy, mate.”

“Okay,” I said. And I started to flex my knees.

“Slow,” said the guy, drawing his knife back a few inches but keeping it pointed at my carotid artery. I bended my knees as slowly as I could. “Easy,” he said.

Believe me, I was trying my best to go as slowly and easily as I could, with Sid’s blade descending along with me, but then my knee went out on me again, my right knee it was this time, and with a flash of pain I pitched forward, my head butting the man right in the pit of the stomach, knocking him backwards, I heard his head thump against the cobbles, and then I was lying on top of him and he was lying still.

“Ow,” I said, pushing myself off the man. “Ow.”

Lying on my back I brought my throbbing knee up and put both my hands around it, which did nothing to ease the pain.

“Ow,” I said, staring up at the swirling greyness of the fog.

Then Mr. Jones was leaning over me.

“You okay, buddy?”

“My leg,” I said. “Ow.”

“Hurts, huh?”


“Nice move, Arnold. You knocked the bastard out cold. Dig this.” He showed me a knife. “Got his switchblade. Nice one, too. Looks like one of them Dago blades.” He folded the blade into the handle and dropped the knife into the side pocket of his jacket.

“All right, let’s get you up,” he said.

He pulled on my arm, and I managed to get up to a sitting position, where I stopped, holding my knee with both hands and trying not to say ow.

Mr. Jones reached down and picked my wallet up off the cobblestones, handed it to me.

“There ya go, buddy.”

Holding my knee with one hand, with the other hand I shoved the wallet back into the rear pocket of my bermudas.

“Now come on, you lazy bastard,” said Mr. Jones. “Let’s get that drink.”

“I’m not sure I can stand up,” I said.

“I was afraid you’d say that,” said Mr. Jones. “Well, fortunately, I got a little somethin’ for ya.”

He reached into his suit jacket and brought out a little Bayer aspirin tin.

“Oh, aspirin might help a little,” I said. “Better give me two. Ow. Or three. No, make it just two, because I haven’t eaten lately and –”

“You’ll only need one,” he said, and he clicked the tin open. “And besides, one is all I got left. I was saving it for an emergency, but what the hell, I like you, Arnold.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Ow. What is it. Ow.”

“Just take it. It’ll make the pain go away.”

“It’s not addictive, is it?”

“Just fucking take it, man. You won’t get addicted from one tab. Christ.”

There was one pill in the tin. With genuinely trembling fingers I took it out, put it in my mouth.

“Just swallow it,” said Mr. Jones. He clicked the tin shut and put it away again. “The quicker the better.”

I swallowed the pill.

“Ow,” I said. “How long will it take to work?”

“Give it a minute, buddy. Here, let me feel that knee.”

“No! Don’t touch it!”

I kept both my hands over it, as if it were some precious little animal I was protecting.

“Stop your whining and let me feel it. I just wanta see if anything’s broke.”

“Well, okay,” I said. “Just be careful.”

I lifted my hands off and looked away and up into the fog.

I felt gentle old fingers touching and prodding that nexus of pain that was my knee.

“Ow,” I said. “Be careful.”

“You big baby,” said Mr. Jones. (Ow, I thought, but did not say.) “This knee ain’t busted. Sure, it’s scraped, and swollen, but you didn’t break nothing.”

“Are you sure?”

“Arnie, you know how many freight trains I jumped on and off of in my younger days?”



“A lot?”

“That’s right. A lot. You think a freight-hoppin’ hobo don’t know from knee injuries?”

“Well –”

“Argggh,” said Sid.

“What did he say?” asked Mr. Jones.

“Argghh,” Sid said again.

He was still lying on his back, right next to me, but now he was stirring, although his eyes were still closed. His pompadour had partially collapsed, and greasy strands of hair lay down over his face like spider legs.

“He looks in pretty bad shape,” I said.

“He got what he deserves,” said Mr. Jones. “Turn him over, will you?”


“Just turn him over.”

“Well, okay.”

Using both hands I gripped the man at his hip and shoulder and turned him over on his stomach. He was very light, and this wasn’t hard to do.

“Argghh,” he said.

“Did you want to check his head, Mr. Jones?”

“Whaddaya mean?”

“You know, check his head to see if he’s seriously injured, or –”

“Yeah, right,” said Mr. Jones.

Going around to the other side of the man, Mr. Jones hunkered down, picked up the rear flap of his zoot suit-jacket, and pulled his wallet out of his back pocket.

“What are you doing?” I said.

“Be cool, brother.”

Mr. Jones opened the wallet and took some bills out of it. He dropped the wallet onto the pavement, and counted the money.

“Mr. Jones,” I said. “You can’t just rob him like that.”

“Arnie,” said Mr. Jones, “we’re letting this creep off easy. Somebody else would call the bulls. As it is he gets off with a headache and a, what, a twenty-two dollar fine.” He shoved the money into his trousers pocket. “Plus he loses his switchblade. Tough. How’s your knee now?”

“I think the pill is starting to kick in a little.”

“Arrghh,” said the man again.

“Shaddap, shitbird,” said Mr. Jones.


The man made an effort to push himself up from the paving stones, but then collapsed again.

Mr. Jones nimbly stepped over the man’s legs.

“Come on,” he said. “Get up. First round’s on me.”

He held out his thin and gnarly little hand to me. It occurred to me that if I really let him try to pull me up the result would most likely be him lying on the ground and me still sitting on it. However, just to make him feel useful, I took his hand, and, gritting my teeth, I pushed up from the pavement using my free hand and my better leg.

When I was finally standing again Mr. Jones patted me on the arm.

“There ya go, buddy. Standing up like a good soldier.”

“Argghhh,” said Sid, lying there on the cobblestones.

“What about him?” I said.

“What about him?” said Mr. Jones.

“It seems a shame just to leave him lying here,” I said.

“You’re kidding me, right?”

“Well –”

“Come on, let’s get them drinks.”

“Let me just check on him,” I said.

“Jesus Christ.”

I hobbled a step or two closer to the man and bent over his head.

“Hey,” I said. “Sid. Are you okay?”

“Bloody hell,” he said.

“Leave him,” said Mr. Jones. “He’s okay,”

“Bloody hell,” the guy said again.

He was still lying prone, his face to one side, most of it obscured by what used to be his hairstyle. He put one hand on the back of his head. I felt bad.

“Listen,” I said, “do you want us to, uh, try to take you somewhere? Or get help? Or –”

He said something I couldn’t make out. He took his hand away from his head, and tightened both his hands into fists, pulsing the heels of his hands against the wet cobblestones.

“What did you say?” I asked.

“Third oldest trick in the book,” he said, in low, strained voice. “Fuckin’ sucker head-butt.”

“It was an accident,” I said. “My knee went out.”

“Accident my arse.”

“No, really –”

He mumbled something else but I couldn’t hear what he said. I bent over closer.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I couldn’t hear you.”

Again he mumbled something unintelligible.

I bent over a little closer.

“Could you repeat that?” I said.

And then, in a voice only barely above a whisper he said, “I’m gonna fucking kill you. I swear. If I see you again I’m gonna fucking kill you. And the old man. I’m gonna murder yez both.”

I straightened up.

“What did he say?” asked Mr. Jones.

“He said he was okay,” I said.

“That’s all?”

“Uh, yeah, he said he’s just gonna rest for a bit. But he’ll be okay.”

“Argghh,” said Sid.

“He don’t sound too okay,” said Mr. Jones. “But fuck him. Let’s get that drink.”

“Kill you,” said Sid.

“What did he say?” said Mr. Jones.

“Um, ‘See you,’” I said.

“Kill yez both,” said Sid.

“What?” said Mr. Jones.

“See us both,” I said. “He said he’d see us both.”

“Not if we see him first,” said Mr. Jones. “Come on.”

The jazz music was still playing out there in the fog somewhere, and had been playing. We headed off in the direction of the music, me limping, Mr. Jones shuffling, and behind us I could hear Sid’s voice fading into the fog behind us.

“Kill yez...murder yez both...the both o’ yez...argghh…”

(Continued here, and for at least another ten or twenty years.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what one hopes is an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Order now for your own Arnold Schnabel Holiday Greeting Cards™ (nondenominational), and remember, they’re cheaper by the gross!)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 277: nothing

Our hero Arnold Schnabel and his aged companion Mr. Jones are still trying to make their way back to the world of the living...

(Kindly go here to read our preceding chapter; anyone looking for a new harmless obsession may click here to return to the faraway very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 57-volume memoir.)

“Recently I found myself trapped for some several hours in the ancient elevator of the Union League in Philadelphia; fortunately I had my ‘smart phone’ on me and thus was able to pass the time quite pleasantly re-reading some of my favorite Arnold Schnabel episodes.” -- Harold Bloom, on Live! with Regis and Kelly.

I kept climbing up the ladder, going slowly, one step at a time, sliding my hands up the wet rails without ever completely letting go with either hand. Both my legs hurt at various places, and I wouldn’t have put it past either of them to seize up on me at any moment. After having made it this far I didn’t want to slip and fall down into that inky water.

Pretty soon my eyes and nose, not unlike Kilroy’s, were suddenly above the level of the top of the wall, which was about two feet broad, with everything beyond obscured by fog, if there was anything beyond. The fog was not still, but stirring very gently, as though it were breathing. Mr. Jones was nowhere to be seen. The handrails of the ladder curved up above the wall into twin inverted “U”s, fixed into the stone with bolted metal plates. I climbed on up, and, keeping hold of the rails, I called out into that grey and lightly swirling void.

“Mr. Jones?”

“What?” came his voice, from somewhere below.

“Where are you?” I called.

“Down here, Arnie-boy. There’s a flight of steps right at your feet.”

Looking down I saw some stone steps rising up out of, or descending into, the fog below. The steps were about three feet wide.

“Oh, okay,” I said.

The steps looked wet.

“You see them?” called Mr. Jones’s voice.

“Yes,” I said.

There was no handrail.

“Come on down. But be careful.”

“I will,” I said.

“You don’t need to take any more croppers today.”

“No,” I said.

“So come on.”

“How many steps are there?” I asked.

“Just a half-dozen or so. Eight maybe.”

“I wish there was a railing,” I said.

“So write your congressman. Come on, buddy, if I can make it then you should be able to.”

“Right,” I said.

“Just be careful.”

“I will,” I said.

“One step at a time, you’ll be fine.”

“Okay,” I said. “So it’s just like six or eight steps, right?”

“Around six or eight,” said Mr. Jones. “Maybe ten.” I think he was getting a little impatient. “I didn’t count them. Now come on.”

“Okay,” I said, and I stepped down.

One step at a time. I took another step. I felt a jolt of pain in one knee, but to be honest I was getting used to these by now. I just had to take my time and be careful. I took another step and now I could make out the dim silhouette of what must be Mr. Jones, standing near what must be the foot of the steps.

“Oh, I can see you now,” I said.

“That’s great, Arnold. Now hurry the fuck up.”

I took another step, perhaps too quickly in my embarrassment at my own timidity, because the sole of one of my Keds slipped out from under me, and I fell, backwards, and downwards, my backside thumping hard upon first one step, then another, and a third, maybe a fourth, till finally my feet hit hard pavement and I pitched forward into a pair of thin short legs, knocking them and the old man’s body to which they were attached to the ground.

“Fucking Christ,” said Mr. Jones.

“Ow,” I said.

“I told you to be careful.”

“I was trying to be,” I said. “Ow.”

“You tackle me, and you’re the one who says ow?”

“I’m really sorry,” I said.

“Get your face out of my crotch, damn it!”

I rolled off of him. I was in a great deal of pain, most of which now emanated from my rear end, but I thought it best not to mention this at the present moment.

“Are you okay, Mr. Jones?”

“Considering that some big fool just tackled me to the bricks, yes. Now help me up.”

Gritting my teeth, I first got myself on my feet, and then reached down, took hold of both of Mr. Jones’s forearms, and pulled him upright.

“I hope I didn’t hurt you,” I said. “Too much.”

“I’ll live,” he said. “Or rather I will live if indeed we are at last in the world of the living.”

Keeping one hand on his arm, I looked around. Except for the first few of the stone steps I had just so ineptly descended and a bit of the wall on either side of them, all I could see was Mr. Jones and a yard or so of the ground around us, paved with grey cobblestones.

“Fucking fog,” said Mr. Jones.

“Well, I guess we should just keep walking,” I said.

“It beats just standing here.”

“Okay, then.”

“Just do me a favor.”


“Don’t tackle me no more.”

“I’ll try not to,” I said. “Let’s just take it slow and easy, at least till we get clear of this fog.”

And so arm in arm we headed slowly into the fog, me limping more than ever, Mr. Jones shuffling as decrepitly as ever.

Then I began to hear a sound, like the beating of a heart, and then a sort of rhythmic crashing sound like distant waves at the shore, but speeded up, and then when I also heard what at first I thought was a woman crying I realized it was not noise I was hearing but music.

“Mr. Jones,” I said, “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“Stop a second.”

I put my other hand on his arm.

“Why you always grabbing me for like that, son?”

“Sorry,” I said, taking my hands away. “But listen.”

He cupped a hand to his ear and turned his head so the ear was facing in the direction we had been walking.

“Now I hear it,” he said. “Sounds like one of them hot jazz combos.”

“We must be back in the world of the living then,” I said.

“So one would assume,” he said. “But where in the world of the living actually are we? Somehow this doesn’t seem like Cape May, does it?”

“No, I said, “unless it’s some part of Cape May I’m not quite familiar with.”

“You’re quite familiar with Cape May then, are you?”

“Well, there are parts I suppose I haven’t been to,” I said. “Maybe we’re out near, I don’t know, the Coast Guard base.”

“The Coast Guard base.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“You think so.”

“Well, I just mean, like, you know --”


“Yeah,” I said, already suffused with doubt.

“Well, personally I never travel more than five blocks from my room,” said Mr. Jones. “So what do I know?”

“I think we should just keep walking towards the music,” I said. “It must be a bar.”

“Now you’re talking,” said Mr. Jones. “A little whiskey, just to cut through the fog in our lungs.”

“Well, I was thinking we could ask where we are, get some directions maybe.”

“Yeah, sure. And we’ll have a whiskey while we’re askin’.”

“Well, maybe one,” I said.

“Or two,” said Mr. Jones. “After all, it’s not every day that a fella comes back from the dead.”

“True,” I said, although this was in fact the second day in a row that I had done so, if indeed we were back from the dead.

“A man’s got a right to celebrate,” said Mr. Jones.

“Yes,” I said.

“A couple whiskeys. Couple beers. Wait -- maybe Manhattans! You like Manhattans, right?”

“Well, uh --”

“Or, say, ya know what’s good? Champagne Cocktails. Ever have one?”

“Um, I don’t think so --”

“Cognac and champagne. And some other shit, but cognac and champagne are the key elements. We can only hope they have some good cognac and champagne in this dive we’re headed toward. How much money you got on you, anyway?”

“Um --”

“Hullo gents.”

Both Mr. Jones and I gave out with little yelps of fright at the sound of these last words and the sudden sight of their apparent speaker, who seemed to emerge from the fog before us all at once although he was standing still, a small pale man in a sharkskin zoot suit and a bolo tie, lighting a cigarette with a lighter and smiling. He had glossy black hair that bulged up in a sort of bubble over his forehead and he had a long scar on one cheek.

“Holy shit,” said Mr. Jones. “You scared us there, buddy.”

“Heh heh.” The man clicked his lighter shut and dropped it into the side pocket of his jacket. “It’s this damn fog,” he said, keeping the cigarette in his mouth. He had some sort of English accent. “Can’t see your nose in front of your face.”

“I can never see my nose in front of my face,” said Mr. Jones. “Because my nose is on my face.”

“Okay, I’ll rephrase that,” said the man. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and looked at it for a moment. Then he looked at me, and then at Mr. Jones. “This damn fog is so thick you could cut it with a knife.”

“That’s better,” said Mr. Jones.

“But a sharp knife,” said the man. (On second thought he could have been Australian or South African, or something else.) Again he looked at me and Mr. Jones in turn, and then he went on. “It’s like that thick. This fog. You’d need a real sharp knife to cut it. Razor sharp.”

“Okay, I get it,” said Mr. Jones.

“Yeah, sure,” said the man. “So, you chaps new in town?”

“That depends,” said Mr. Jones. “What town is this?”

“Ha ha. I would say you slay me, pops, but then you might assail me again on a point of verbal accuracy.”

“Even speaking figuratively,” said Mr. Jones, “I fail to see how my simple question would slay you or otherwise incapacitate you to the extent of making you unable to answer my simple question.”

“Ha ha. Trust me, gramps, if I was in a position to be slain you would be doing so now.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“Just what I said. If I could be slain you would be slaying me, absolutely killing me, that’s how funny you are. You should be in the music halls, or panto. Take your act on the road, like. Maybe a carny. The Old Joking Midget they could call you. You pays your penny and he slays you. Dead.”

“Listen,” said Mr. Jones, “you, you dockside lout, all we want to know is what town this is. Is that so hard a question?”

“Ha ha, you chaps really are lost, ain’t ya?”

“Yes,” said Mr. Jones. “We’re lost. In the fog. Now can you please tell us where we are.”

“Ha ha. You’re lost all right.”

“Excuse me -- sir,” I said.

“The big man speaks. And here I was thinking you was the strong silent type. What gives, daddy-o?”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“I am an open book. A bible. A telephone directory. I am a compendium of favorite items from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. I am the Sears Roebuck Catalogue and Funk & Wagnall’s Encyclopedia. I am Father Butler’s Lives of the Saints and the goddam Torah rolled into one. I am the Domesday Book. Ask away, my friend.”

“Okay,” I said. “What we’d like to know is if this is --”

“If what is?”

“This --” I said, making a sideways sweep of my hand.

“Whoa, John Barrymore with the dramatic gestures,” said the fellow.

“Um, yeah,” I said. “So, like, um, what we’d like to know is if this --”

“This,” said the guy, sweeping his hand.

“Yeah,” I said. “We were wondering if this is the, uh, um --”

“Take your time.”

“Hey, fuck you, pal,” said Mr. Jones.

“Aw, now that ain’t nice,” said the man.

“Is this the land of the living?” I said.

“What?” said the man.

“Is this the land of the living.”

“The land of the living.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Ha ha,” he said.

“Answer the question,” said Mr. Jones.

“Ha ha,” said the man.

“What?” said Mr. Jones.

“That’s my answer,” said the man. “Ha ha is my answer.”

“So you’re saying we’re not in the world of the living,” said Mr. Jones.

“Ha ha,” said the man.

“Answer us,” said Mr. Jones. “You insolent ponce. Yes or no.”

“No,” said the man. “Nix. Nyet. Nein. Ixnay. No.”

“Shit,” said Mr. Jones.

“Ha ha,” said the man.

“That fucking ferryman,” said Mr. Jones.

“Who?” said the man. “Harry?”

“Yeah,” said Mr. Jones.

“Goddam Harry, always getting lost. Pathetic.”

“Damn his eyes,” said Mr. Jones. “So what is this place?”

“This place?” The man looked around, as if there were anything at all to see except fog. “Some people call it the Island of Lost Souls. Some people call it the Place With No Name, or the Port of Grim Shadows. Some people call it Nowheresvile, daddy-o.”

“What do you call it?” asked Mr. Jones.

“I don’t call it nothing, pops. I don’t call it nothing at all.”

“Nothing,” said Mr. Jones.

“Nothing,” said the man.

“Nothing?” I said.

“Not a goddam thing,” said the man.

“Well, okay, then,” I said. “I guess we’ll be moving along.”

“Where yez goin’ ya don’t mind my asking.”

“We were headed towards the sound of that music,” I said.

“Oh.” The music had been playing faintly in the distance all throughout the above conversation, and I could now hear what sounded like a saxophone. “That joint,” said the man.

“You know it?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I know it.”

“Well, that’s where we’re going.”

“Hold on just a second.”

“I beg your pardon?’

He put his cigarette in his mouth, then reached into his jacket and brought out something, did something with his fingers, and a four-inch blade flicked out. It looked very sharp. He pointed the blade toward my throat.

(Continued here, and onward, come hell or high water and everything in between.)

(Please look to the right-hand column of this page to find a scrupulously up-to-date listing of links to all other legally-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. We still have a limited quantity of Railroad Train to Heaven Action Figures™ available, so be sure to pre-order now as stocks are sure to diminish as the holiday season approaches. The perfect stocking-stuffers for young and old alike!)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 276: land ho

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his companion that ancient scamp Mr. Jones on a boat on the River Styx, rowed by the singing ferryman Harry...

(Click here to read our previous thrilling episode; those who are not afraid to venture where eagles dare may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 52-volume masterpiece of autobiography and philosophical reflection.)

“Perhaps the only memoirist who might possibly be in the same league with Arnold Schnabel would be St. Augustine of Hippo, and, to be quite honest, that’s giving Augustine a lot of credit, maybe more than he deserves.” -- Harold Bloom, on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

On he sang and on he rowed, into that thick fog on the dark water, through that air which reeked increasingly with the odors of dead cigars and coal bins, of automobile graveyards in the rain, of men’s rooms in low waterfront taverns.

Yes, I’m just a hearty boatman,
a stout boatman is what I am.
It might not seem like a big deal to you,
and, frankly, it doesn’t to anyone.
But what the hell, what can you do?
Who ever said that a job should be fun?
I sit all day in my folding canvas chair
and I read a good book while I wait for a fare.
It could be worse, I don’t complain;
Instead I sing this sad refrain:
Yes, I am a boatman on the River Styx,
and rowing this boat’s how I get my kicks.
Row, Harry, row.
Bring on them dead souls.
Row, Harry, row.
Yes, that’s how ol’ Harry rolls…

“If we don’t get to where we’re goin’ soon I’m gonna roll this guy right over the fuckin’ side,” muttered Mr. Jones.

“Hey,” said Harry, breaking off his song and his rowing, and turning back to us again, “you guys wanta sing along with me? Help out on the choruses? It’s like, I’ll go, “Row, row, row,” and then you guys sing, “Row, Harry, row. Row, Harry, row --”

“That’s okay,” said Mr. Jones.

“What, you don’t wanta sing?”

“No. We just want to get to the other side, and, look, pal, I don’t want to tell you your job, but the boat is veering to the left again.”

“It is? Oh, sorry.”

He did something with the oars, but then he turned to us once more.

“What about you, Mr. Schneider?”

“Schnabel,” I said.


“My name is Schnabel actually, Arnold Schnabel.”

“Yeah, listen, maybe you’d like to sing --”

“No,” I said quickly. “Sorry, I don’t sing.”

“You don’t sing.”


“Ever. Not even like at a novena, or a May procession, or midnight mass at Christmas?”

“I always just move my lips,” I said.

“Okay, well, I guess I’m working solo, then.”

He turned and resumed rowing, and singing.

Yes I’ll sing my boatman’s song,
all the damned day long
and all night long too.
what else am I going to do
to lessen the tedium of my existence?
Am I simply to row in stoic silence?
Hell, no, I say, this is my song
and I’ll sing it right or wrong --

Right then Harry stopped singing, shifted his weight to one side, and stopped rowing.

“Hey, Harry, what gives, man?” said Mr. Jones.

“Nothing,” said Harry, not turning round.

“Why’d you stop rowing?” asked Mr. Jones.

“No reason,” said Harry.

“Well, whaddya say, pal, me and Arnie, we got places to go and people to meet.”

“Okay,” said Harry.

“So let’s get a move on,” said Mr. Jones.

“Okay,” said Harry again, but instead of continuing to row he leaned even farther to one side, shifting all his weight to his enormous right buttock, well, to the only right buttock he had, which happened to be enormous.

It was then that he farted, very loudly, and lengthily, it sounded like the peal of a foghorn, and if there were any other boats about in this fog within the distance of half a mile I’m sure their crew and passengers heard it clearly, unless their hearing was impaired, but even if that were so then they probably would soon enough have smelled the vile gas which accompanied this awful sound.

“Oh, Jesus Christ!” cried Mr. Jones, putting his hand over his face and turning completely around. I too turned about, hand over my nose and mouth, gagging.

“Sorry, fellas,” called Harry. “I had beans for breakfast this morning. I’ll row as quickly as I can, to try to leave the afflatus in our wake. Just hold your breath for as long as you possibly can.”

We were already holding our breath of course. To breathe at that point would have been tantamount to suicide, if suicide were possible in this world. After a minute I couldn’t hold it in any more, exhaled, and, gasping, breathed in the thick foggy air, and I didn’t die. Mr. Jones was twisted around on his seat, almost doubled over. He didn’t appear to be breathing. I patted his back, and a thin retching sound emerged from his mouth.

“Mr. Jones?” I said.

“Oh, my God,” he said.

I put my hands on his shoulders, and gently raised his torso, setting him straight on his seat again.

“It’s okay, Mr. Jones,” I said. “You can breathe now.”

He was panting, as if he had just been running, although it was hard to imagine him running, or even walking at a brisk pace.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“I’m alive,” he said, after a pause. “Just barely, but I’m alive.”

“Well, ya know,” said Harry, over his shoulder, “strictly speaking, you’re not alive, not till you get to the other side that is. Not to be pedantic or anything.”

“Listen, pal,” said Mr. Jones, “just row, okay? And try not to fucking fart.”

“Hey, I said I was sorry,” said Harry, who was now in fact rowing quite vigorously. “Jeeze.”

“Fuck you,” said Mr. Jones.

“That’s not nice,” said Harry, in a voice barely audible.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so disgusted in my life,” said Mr. Jones. “And I’m eighty-seven years old, so that’s saying something.”

“It’s them beans I ate,” said Harry. “They always give me gas.”

“Then why do you eat them?” said Mr. Jones.

“I like them, what can I say? And it’s not like I have ‘em for breakfast every day. I mean, you know, not every single day. Some mornings for instance I like some scrambled eggs and fried sardines, or maybe, hey, ya know what’s good?” He had stopped rowing again, and was turned around in his seat. “I said you know what else is good?”

“What?” said Mr. Jones. “What else is good?”

“Kidneys and scrambled eggs. With fried bread. And sorghum syrup.”

“Harry,” said Mr. Jones.

“Some hot Bosco?” said Harry. “Maybe some groat cakes on the side, with some thistleberry jam, and clotted cream? You know what you got then?”

“What?” said Mr. Jones.

“I said, you know what you got then?”

“Yeah, I heard you,” said Mr. Jones. “And I said what.”

“You know what you got then?”

“Fucking hell,” said Mr. Jones.

“You got yourself a meal right there,” said Harry.

“Really?” said Mr. Jones.

“Yeah,” said Harry. “That‘s what you got right there. A meal. ‘Cause you know, you know what breakfast is, doncha?”

“Let me guess,” said Mr. Jones.

“Okay, guess.”

“Most important meal of the day?”

“That’s right,” said Harry. “Most important meal of the day.”

“Harry,” said Mr. Jones.


“You seem like a nice guy.”

“Thank you. I like to think I’m a nice guy --”

“But do us a favor,” said Mr. Jones.


“Will you turn around and fucking row this fucking boat?”


“Oh, and by the way, while you’ve been busy talking idiotic shite this boat has been turning to the left again, sorry, to port, so how about just concentrating on your job for a change.”

Harry said nothing for a moment. Then he looked over at the water.

“Just a little bit off course, I think.”

“Row,” said Mr. Jones. “Please. Just row.”

“There ya go,” said Harry. “You said please. That didn’t hurt, did it? A little politeness. That’s all I ask.”

“Please row the fucking boat,” said Mr. Jones.

“Well, you didn’t have to say the F-word,” said Harry. “See, that ruins the whole effect of the ‘please’.”

“Oh, my fucking God,” said Mr. Jones.

“Okay, there ya go again,” said Harry. “A nice old gentleman like you, you shouldn’t --”

Suddenly there was a great shuddering thump from the bow of the boat, and Harry almost fell off his seat, managing to stay on it only by hanging onto his oars.

“What the fuck,” said Mr. Jones. He had almost fallen off his seat as well, but I had caught him by the arm.

“Well, what do ya know,” said Harry. “Looks like we’re here.”

I could now distinguish what looked like a dark grey wall in front of the boat.

“Thank fucking Christ,” said Mr. Jones.

“Looks a little different,” said Harry.

“What do you mean, different?” said Mr. Jones.

“This wall here,” said Harry. “I guess we did get a little off course.”

“But we’re here, right?” said Mr. Jones. “We’re on the other side.”

“Yeah,” said Harry, “I mean, sure.”

He had turned the boat to the left, okay, to port, and now he rowed it closer to the wall, which I could now see through the mist was built of smooth, greyish, stained blocks of stone. I couldn’t see the top of the wall through the fog.

“You’re sure this is it,” said Mr. Jones.

“Yeah, sure,” said Harry. “We just gotta find some kind of landing or ladder or something so you guys can, you know --”

“Right, find a landing or a ladder or something,” said Mr. Jones.

“So you guys can get ashore,” said Harry.

“That would be nice,” said Mr. Jones.

“Gotta be something along here,” said Harry.

Suddenly there was another jolting bump from the bow of the boat, accompanied by a sort of metallic twanging.

“What the fuck,” said Harry.

“Yeah, what the fuck,” said Mr. Jones, who had almost fallen off his seat again.

“Oh, I hit a handrail,” said Harry.

“A what?”

“A handrail. Look.”

Sure enough, I could now see that the bow of the boat was nosing against a metal handrail going up the wall. Another handrail ran up parallel to it a couple of feet away, and in between the rails were what looked to be steps.

Harry worked his oars again, backing up and away from the rail, and then bringing the bow of the boat slowly past the ladder, pulling in his right-hand oar to the side of the boat so it wouldn’t hit the rails.

“See, I told you guys I’d get you here.”

“Yeah, great, thanks,” said Mr. Jones.

“Old Harry knows what he’s doing. Let me just bring yez right abeam of this old ladder here.”

He managed to do this, more or less, and then held the boat stationary, more or less, using his left-hand oar.

“Careful now, gents.”

“So, Harry,” I said, “we just climb up here, right?”

“Climb right on up.”

“And then we’re back in the world of the living.”

“Yessiree. And listen, don’t forget what I said. When you guys come back, help a brother out and bring me some books.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Or magazines. I like them men’s adventure magazines.”

“Okay, sure,” I said.

I was standing up in the boat now. I reached out and held one of the metal rails with my left hand, and with the other I helped Mr. Jones step up out of the boat and onto the ladder.

“Careful,” said Harry. “Might be slippery in this damp fog.”

Mr. Jones had both his hands on the rails, and now he’d got both his feet onto a rung of the ladder, it was more like a step really, a perforated rusted iron step, and he started to climb up. I kept my hand on the small of his back for the first couple of steps.

“There ya go, old-timer,” said Harry. “Climbing that ladder just like a spry little rhesus monkey.”

After Mr. Jones had gone up past the level of my head I pulled myself onto the ladder, feeling the boat push away from the wall as I stepped away.

I started to climb up. The railings were wet and cool, the steps were wet too, and I went slowly.

“Hey, buddy, Mr. Schneider!” called Harry.

I stopped, looked down at him, at his enormous body in the middle of the rowboat, the fog was already beginning to obscure his facial features.

“Yes?” I said.

“You ain’t mad at me, are ya?”

“No,” I said.

“Good! Now don’t forget them books!” With his right-hand oar he pushed away from the wall. “See ya, fellas!”

“See ya,” I said, but I don’t suppose he heard me, he was already disappearing into the fog.

I resumed climbing up the ladder. All I saw above me was fog.

“Or magazines!” I heard Harry’s voice yell, muffled now. “Men’s… adventure…magazines…” His voice fading away. “Or Sternwall… Horace…P…Sternwall…”

Then only silence, except for the soft sound of the dark water lapping against the wet stones.

(Continued here, and until flights of angels sing us to our rest.)

(Kindly refer to the right-hand column of this page to find a current listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, soon to be a major motion picture starring Jack Webb as Arnold, featuring Barry Fitzgerald as Mr. Jones, with special guest star Orson Welles as Harry the boatman. Directed and produced by Larry Winchester.)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 275: row, Harry

Attempting to return to the world of the living, our hero Arnold Schnabel and his companion that ancient hedonist Mr. Jones have encountered a ferryman named Harry…

(Click here to read our previous chapter; go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award©-winning 74-volume memoir, soon to be a major television series from Masterpiece Theatre, directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Ralph Fiennes as Arnold, with special guest star Sir Ian McKellan in the role of Mr. Jones; featuring Andy Devine as Harry the boatman.)

“Arnold Schnabel has been compared to Proust, to Joyce, to Beckett, to Romain Rolland, and God knows to whom else; but in the end he may be compared only to himself, and that is enough, nay, more than enough.” -- Harold Bloom, in a talk at “The Annual Arnold Schnabel Symposium” at Olney Community College, Philadelphia, PA.

The boat was gently bobbing sideways in the shallow water right next to the shore, tied to a rusted corrugated metal stake in the ground. It was a plain old rowboat, about fourteen feet long and four feet at its widest. It had been painted white with blue trim, but the white paint was yellowed, the blue was faded, all of it was peeling and warped. Beyond the boat a few feet of dark water was visible and then there was nothing but fog.

“Just climb in the stern there, gentlemen,” said Harry the ferryman.

The three of us went down and Harry and I held the side of the boat while Mr. Jones climbed in. I followed him in, and we sat side by side on the seat at the rear, facing the front of the boat, or the bow I suppose I should say.

Harry climbed in, and because of his great weight the boat rocked radically, coming very close to turning over. After nearly falling out he sat down with a thump on the seat in the middle of the boat, facing forward, and then started to pull an oar up from the floor, turning around to us as he did so.

“Cast off that line back there, willya?”

I turned around, and went to work on the rope, which was tied to a ring on the stern. It was a simple knot, so it only took me a minute and a half – two minutes tops – to get it untied and then to toss the rope to the shore.

By the time I turned around again Harry had two oars shipped. He was twisted around in his seat, looking at me.

“Not too good with knots, are you?” he said.

“I’m afraid I have little experience with boats,” I said.

“No kidding?”

He took a last good drag on his cigar, then tossed it out into the water where it hissed and then floated away into the fog. Turning forward again, he pushed away from the shore with one oar, then worked both oars until we were headed out into the river.

We floated into the fog. The air smelled slightly of burnt matches, of wet wool and rotten eggs. Harry grunted as he rowed, and soon he began to sing a song, unpleasantly, in his high-pitched, raspy voice, the only voice he had no doubt, a song with little discernible melody or rhythm or form, not that I’m anyone to be critical:

Oh we’re off once again ‘cross the ol’ River Styx,
that mighty river of death.
Some say that there’s more pricks than kicks
on this mighty old river of death,

but I say there’s nothing like a good clean breath
of the sulphurous fog of the river of death
and I’d rather row with a cavalier air
on this ol’ mighty river of death

than walk through the park
with your lady fair
and nary a thought of doom,
yes I’d rather be nowhere
really, than on this river dark
and grim and silent as a tomb…

Mr. Jones nudged me with his elbow. I turned and he gestured
with his finger for me to lower my head. I did so.

“Not really so silent right now, is it?” Mr. Jones whispered up into my ear.

“Well, I guess it’s his tradition,” I whispered back.

“It used to be a tradition to lynch darkies down south. But that didn’t make it right,” whispered Mr. Jones.

Harry had continued to sing while we were whispering, but now he stopped rowing and turned in his seat to look back at us.

“You like my shanty?”

“Yes!” said Mr. Jones.

“I made it up myself,” said Harry. “It has about ten thousand verses.”

“No kidding?” said Mr. Jones. “I hope it doesn’t take ten thousand verses to get across the river here.”

“Ha ha, no, not usually. But it breaks up the monotony. Sometimes I alter the melody, put in little like interludes or different sections, you know, like the movements of a symphony, or I’ll imagine different characters are singing, sorta like an opera, or a whaddyacallit?”

“A Broadway musical?” said Mr. Jones.

“No, more like, um – a cantata, yeah, that’s what it’s called, a cantata.”

“A cantata.”

“Yeah, like, I’ll have parts with say, Ulysses, or Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, or Ahab. You know who Ahab was, right?”

Moby-Dick?” said Mr. Jones.

“Exactly. Man, that Melville could write like a son-of-a-bitch. A little dull and long-winded maybe, a little too obvious one might say in his symbolisms and metaphors, but –”

“I liked the movie with that young fella, Gregory Peck,” said Mr. Jones.

“What movie?”


“Never saw it,” said Harry.

“Y’know, excuse me,” said Mr. Jones, “but I think the boat is veering a bit to the left there.”

“What?” said Harry. He turned around to face forward again, then worked the oars, turning us back at least roughly in the original direction. Then he paused and turned back to look at us again. “Just a little off-course, nothing to get excited about.”

“Maybe you should keep facing front, just to be on the safe side,” said Mr. Jones.

“I know what I’m doing,” said Harry. “I’ve been rowing this damn boat way before even you were born, gramps.”

“Still, I think we’d both feel better if you just sort of watched where you’re going,” said Mr. Jones.

“I’m just trying to be sociable.”

“Yes, but –"

“Shoot the shit a little,” said the boatman.

“I realize that,” said Mr. Jones.

“It gets lonely sometimes sitting on that riverbank.”

“I should think you would be very busy ferrying people across,” said Mr. Jones. “Dead people.”

“That’s the other side gets all the business. There’s another guy over there handles that. He’s always busy.”

“People always dying, huh?” said Mr. Jones.

“Always,” said Harry. “But people going the other way? Going back? Very few.”

“Few,” said Mr. Jones.

“And far between,” said Harry. “I sit there weeks sometimes without a customer.”

“Weeks?” said Mr. Jones.

“Week, months, I lose track of the time. I sit and smoke, read books.”

He reached into his jacket pocket, brought out the paperback book he’d been reading when we had first seen him.

“You guys ever read this one? Backstreets of Bangkok?”

“Never heard of it,” said Mr. Jones.

Horace P. Sternwall? Ever hear of him?”

“Sounds familiar,” I said.

I noticed that the boat was turning to the left again now that he was not rowing.

“Somebody left it in the boat,” said the man. “It’s pretty good. I’ve read it about twenty times. Thirty times. I gotta get some new books.”

“Um, Harry –” said Mr. Jones.

The boat was still turning, and was now about at a 60-degree angle from its previous course.

“If you guys want to borrow the book you can have it,” said Harry. “I’ve practically got it memorized at this point.

“Well, thanks, but we really want just to get across,” said Mr. Jones.

“Well, okay.” He put the book away, took up his oars, started rowing again.

We were surrounded by fog. I turned and looked back, and I could no longer see the shore we had set off from. I looked up and saw only fog. All I could see was a few feet of dark water around the boat, and fog.

“Um, excuse me, Harry?” I called.

He stopped rowing and turned.

“Yeah? You want the book?”

“Um – no –”

“It’s a good one. It’s all about this guy named Ben Blagwell who gets trapped in this web of treachery and deceit --”

“Listen, Harry,” I interrupted, “I think you might be going the wrong way.”

“Going the wrong way?”

“Well, I saw the boat turning again while you were talking just then.”

He looked into the water.

“Oh,” he said. “Y’know, I think you’re right, I can tell by the way the water’s flowing. My mistake.”

He started turning the boat with the oars, turning to the left.

“Um,” I said.

“What?” he said.

“You’re turning the same way that the boat was turning just before.”

“I am?”

“Yes,” I said. “It was turning to the left.”

“To the left?”


“To port you mean.”

“Yes, I guess so.”

“So you’re saying I should heave to starboard?”

“That’s right, right?”

“In nautical language, yes.”

“Yes, you need to turn to the right –”

“To starboard.”

“To starboard,” I said, “to get back in the direction we were going before.”

“Okay,” he said, “starboard it is then.”

And now he began turning the boat to the right.

When he had gotten the boat pointed back in the direction he had originally had it going he proceeded to keep turning, but I called out again.

“Excuse me, Harry, I think we’re pointed in the right direction now!”

He paused and turned and looked at me over his shoulder.

“You sure?”

“Pretty sure,” I said.

“So I should keep going straight ahead?”

“Well, you were still turning when I spoke, so maybe if you just turned a little more towards the left now.”

“To port.”

“Yes, to port, just a little.”

He turned, looked to the left and right, into that opaque fog, and then looked back at me.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” he said.

He faced forward and continued his rowing, turning the boat a little to the left and then going straight ahead, in some direction.

“I say, Harry,” called Mr. Jones, “you’re sure we’re going in the right direction now?”

“Positive,” called back Harry, without turning this time. “We’ll know soon enough, anyway.”

“Well, that’s encouraging,” said Mr. Jones.

“Don’t worry, I know this river like the back of my hand, no matter what anybody tells you.”

“No one told us anything,” said Mr. Jones.


Harry was turning to look at us again, although he kept rowing.

“Nope,” said Mr. Jones, “nobody told us nothing.”

“They didn’t say anything about me.”


“Well, that’s good.” He kept rowing, occasionally glancing back over his shoulder to look at us, maybe to make sure we were paying attention. “Y’know, I used to work the far side of the river, but some assholes complained. Which is why I got stuck on this side. Not that I care. You think I care?”

“No?” said Mr. Jones.

“Nope, I don’t care,” said Harry. “Don’t miss it in the least, no sir, rowing dead people across all day practically nonstop, forget it. Only thing is, I wish I had some new books to read. Hey, do me a favor –” he turned around almost completely again, “when you guys come back, bring me some books, okay?”

“Horace P. Sternwall?” said Mr. Jones.

“Yeah, he’s good,” said Harry. “Or Fredric Brown maybe. Carter Brown. Whatever. I think I’ll sing some more now.”

And once again he turned and began to sing as he rowed, in that high raspy voice.

Oh, I’ve been a boatman on the River Styx
since the days of Dante Alighieri;
I’ve seen the dead come with their whole bag of tricks,
but they can’t trick old boatman Harry.

I’ve seen the saints and I’ve seen the sinners,
I’ve seen the bland, the losers and winners,
they all come across sooner or later,
the celibate, the rake, and the masturbator,
they all come across but so few come back,
they come crying, they come sighing,
alas they cry, alas and alack,
they come moaning, they come groaning,
they’ve all got a story
and they’re all so sorry
for the things they did do
and the things they didn’t,
the Catholic and Protestant,
the Parsi and the Jew,
the Sufi and the Pagan,
the Buddhist and the Hindu,
it don’t matter to me
I’m paid not to judge but to row;
yes, eventually
they all come across, but so,
so few come back.
Alas they cry, alack…

Mr. Jones nudged me in the side, and once again I inclined my head.

“Arnie, you think we might be in hell after all?”

I sighed.

“I hope not,” I whispered.

Harry stopped singing and turned around again.

“You gentlemen okay back there?”

“Sure, we’re fine,” said Mr. Jones. “You can keep rowing.”

“Okay,” said Harry, and he turned forward and kept rowing into the fog, resuming his singing.

Oh, I’m just a boatman on the River Styx,
rowing a boat’s how I get my kicks
I’ve seen them come and I’ve seen them go
I’m not paid to judge, I’m just paid to row.
Row, row, row, row, Harry, row,
bring on the dead souls,
‘cause that’s the way ol’ Harry rolls.
He’s seen them come, he’s seen them go.
Row, row, row.
Row, Harry, row…

(Continued here, bloodied but unbowed.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a listing of links to all other currently-possible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Nihil Obstat, Bishop John J. “Big Jack” Graham, S.J.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 35

"stanley: long ago sunny afternoon"

by horace p sternwall

illustrated by rhoda penmarq and roy dismas

for complete episode, click here