Friday, December 27, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 377: mindbender

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his companions Big Ben Blagwell and Ferdinand the loquacious fly, here in the areaway outside a very strange Greenwich Village basement bar, on this rainy momentous night in August of 1957…

(Please click here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you don’t have very much else going on in your life at all you can always go here to return to the very first chapter of this 68-volume
Gold View Award
™-winning memoir.)

“So last week I was reading Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling masterwork on my new Kindle™ while taking the bus to work and I got so absorbed I wound up just riding the bus back and forth on its route for eight hours. It’s a good thing I have tenure, I’ll tell you that much!” — Harold Bloom, in the
Parade Magazine Literary Supplement.

“Well, I don’t know then,” he said, and he turned his head and looked out at the rain. 
“What don’t you know, Ben?” I said. 
“I just don’t know if I should tell you.” He looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “Not if you’re gonna go batshit crazy on me.” 
“I probably won’t go batshit crazy,” I said. 
“Just a little crazy maybe,” said Ferdinand, with what sounded like a chuckle, if a fly can chuckle, and I think he could, as he swirled lazily around. 
“I just don’t know,” said Ben, and he had a serious expression on his face, or possibly an expression he meant to look serious. 
“Well, okay,” I said. “Look, why don’t we just forget it then –” 
He turned to look at me full face. 
“What do you mean?” he said.

His brow was furrowed. Ben was one of those guys who really did furrow his brow when he was puzzled about something. 
“I mean you don’t have to tell me,” I said. 
“What?” he said. “You don’t want to know? You don’t want to know how I got here, in this, as you say, ‘fictional’ universe, when just a little while ago I was back in your – your so-called – ‘real world’?”

He made two quotation marks in the air with his big index fingers.

“You don’t want to know? 
But here was the awkward thing for me at this juncture: now that I had had a moment to think about it, I really didn’t particularly want to know how Ben had gotten here, and to be honest I didn’t really care, either. However, even I could tell that this issue was of some importance to him, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings with a profession of my almost complete indifference. So – 
“Sure, Ben,” I said. “I would like to know. But if it’s going to make you feel uncomfortable, telling me about it –” 
“I didn’t say it was going to make me uncomfortable,” said Ben. 
“That’s right, he never said that,” said Ferdinand. 
“It ain’t about my comfort,” said Ben. He looked down to the paving underneath our feet. There was nothing of interest there. Without raising his head he looked up at me from under the bill of his yachting cap. “What it’s about is me not telling you something’s gonna make your mind explode and turn you into a gibbering subhuman idiot. That’s what it’s about, Arnie.” 
“Okay –” I said. 
“It ain’t about me,” he said, and he looked out at the rain again.  
“Uh-huh,” I said. 
He turned away from the street and the rain, and looked at me again. 
“It’s about you, Arnie.” 
“Don’t lay it on me, pal.” 
“Sorry,” I said. 
“Okay, then,” he said. 
He looked out at the street again. 
“Well,” I said, “maybe it’s really best you don’t tell me then, Ben.” 
He turned and looked at me, but he didn’t say anything.  
Ferdinand flew lazily round and about our heads, making a very slight buzzing sound amidst the clatter of the falling rain. 
Ben opened his mouth as if he were about to say something, but he didn’t, and instead patted the pocket of his Hawaiian shirt. Then he took out of it an opened pack of Sweet Caporals. He gave it a shake so that a few cigarettes popped up. He held the pack out toward me. 
“No thanks,” I said, regretting the words as soon as they left my lips. 
“You ain’t gonna live forever, Arnie,” he said. 
“I know, Ben,” I said. 
“He’s a health nut,” said Ferdinand. 
“I’d offer you one, little buddy,” said Ben. “But –” 
“That’s okay,” said Ferdinand, “but I’ll share your second-hand smoke if you don’t mind.” 
“Don’t mind at all,” said Ben. 
He popped a Sweet Caporal into his scarred lips, dropped the pack back into his pocket. He took out a book of matches from the same pocket, ripped one off and lit himself up, cupping the flame and inclining his head as if he were standing not under an awning in the areaway of a Greenwich Village basement bar but on the deck of a tanker in a typhoon, bound uncertainly for some exotic port. 
In the dim light I could read the print on the matchbook: 
“Musso and Frank Grill — Oldest in Hollywood — Since 1919” 
I had a vague memory of possessing the same or a similar matchbook in a previous adventure, of giving it to Ben.  
He put the matches away as he exhaled a great pearl-grey cloud of smoke. 
“Maybe I ought to tell you,” he said. 
“Tell me what?” I said. 
“You know,” he said. “What I was afraid to tell you.” 
“Okay,” I said. 
“You ain’t afraid of going nuts?” 
“A little,” I said. 
I just think maybe you should know,” he said. 
“Okay,” I said again. I didn’t care. 
“Hey, I like this smoke,” said Ferdinand, he was hovering just a few inches above Ben’s cigarette.  “Normally I like Pall Malls, but these Sweet Caporals ain’t bad.”
“They’re a good smoke,” said Ben. “I like ‘em ‘cause they give you that nice scratchy burning catch in your throat.” 
“I know exactly what you mean,” said Ferdinand. “It’s one of the things I look for from a good smoke.” 
“That bite,” said Ben. 
“Right,” said Ferdinand. “That bite.” 
“Well, look,” I said, “what I really need to do is to find a pencil or a pen, so maybe if a cab comes by we can hail it and have him take us to an all-night drugstore –” 
“What are you talking about?” said Ben. 
“I want to get a pencil or a pen,” I said. “You see I have this blank book here –” I held up the green book, The Ace of Death, by Horace P. Sternwall. “– and I want to try writing something in it, writing a new story in which I can –” 
“Excuse me, Arnie,” said Ben. “I was about to tell you something.” 
“Oh,” I said. “Right.” 
“He’s like a dog with a bone,” said Ferdinand, meaning me. “He’s got a one track mind.” 
“I’ll say,” said Ben. 
“What they call an idée fixe,” said Ferdinand. 
“I don’t know what that is,” said Ben. 
"Means he’s got a bee in his bonnet,” said Ferdinand. 
“A bug up his ass,” said Ben. 
“Ha ha, being a bug myself I’m going to let that one pass, my friend,” said Ferdinand. 
“I meant no offense,” said Ben. 
“But, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, “I think maybe you owe Ben an apology." 
It had come to this. A fly was correcting my etiquette. 
“I apologize, Ben,” I said. “I’ve had a lot on my mind lately.” 
“Apology accepted. So, you bracing yourself?” 
As a matter of fact I was still holding onto the iron rail I had grabbed onto a few minutes before, back when I still wondered and cared how and why Ben had gotten to this world. 
“I suppose I’m as braced as I’ll ever be,” I said.

“All right then,” he said. “In that case I’m going to tell you, and I just hope to God you can handle it. Without going stark staring crazy.” 
He took another big drag on his cigarette before beginning. 
Both my right and left knees were still hurting, as was my elbow and my head in two places. I wondered if I would still have these aches and pains if I ever made it back to my own world. But then I remembered I had been in even greater pain back in my own world, so I supposed I shouldn’t complain. 
“I seen guys lose their minds,” Ben said, after first exhaling a great cloud of smoke that almost filled the areaway, and which seemed to stop at the edge of the sidewalk, not wanting to get wet, “back in the war. I seen guys go raving screaming mad, and it ain’t a pretty sight. One time when I was floating around for weeks on this rubber raft this one guy went nuts. Finally we had to toss him overboard before he drove the rest of us as crazy as he was.” 
“I’ll try not to go crazy,” I said. 
“Okay, then,” he said. “It’s like this, Arnie – 
As he went on – in a very slow voice for him, and with a lot of emphases put on certain words and phrases, and a lot of repetitions of words and phrases too, just to make sure I suppose that I understood their full import – but he did take a certain elliptical or roundabout way of getting to his point, talking about various adventures he had had in his life – as he went slowly on I gazed out at the street, at the unceasing rain crashing on the sidewalk, on the parked cars and on the slick dark paving of MacDougal Street, the falling rain sparkling in the light of the streetlamps, and I found myself becoming consciously aware of the yellow neon BAR sign in the window of the Kettle of Fish, across the street. I was thinking that neon signs looked somehow beautiful at night in a rainy street, and then I began to think of the bar that was behind that sign, a bar probably still filled with revelers, and then at last it occurred to me that someone in there was bound to have a pencil or a pen, and maybe they would lend one to me, or even sell me one. 
“And so that’s how it is, Arnie,” said Ben. 
“Wow,” said Ferdinand, “that is something.” 
“It is, ain’t it?” said Ben. 
“It is like a total mindbender,” said Ferdinand. “I mean that is like the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. And I am a talking fly, so you will understand if I am not easily impressed.” 
“But you are impressed?” said Ben. 
“I am totally impressed,” said Ferdinand. “That is like the wildest, most incredible thing I have ever heard.” 
“So, like, are you okay, Arnie?” said Ben. “You gonna be all right?” 
I had done it again.

I had gone off into my own world when someone else was talking about something important, or at least something important to them. But I wasn’t about to tell Ben that. 
“Yes,” I said. “I think I’ll be okay.” 
“You don’t need to sit down or something?” 
“No,” I said.  
“Go ahead, sit down on the steps a minute if it’ll make you feel better.” 
“Well, the steps are wet,” I said. 
“That’s true,” said Ben. “You sure you don’t want that cigarette now?” 
“No, I think I’ll be okay,” I said. 
“You’re sure?” he said. 
“It’s hard to tell with Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “He always seems a little not okay.” 
“No, I think I’ll be all right,” I said. “Hey, you know, I was wondering if you guys would mind going into that bar across the street.” 
“What,” said Ben, turning and squinting in the direction I had just pointed to. “The Kettle of Fish?” 
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve been in there, it’s a pretty nice stop.” 
“Just like that, you want to go in a bar all of a sudden?” 
“Well, you know,” I said. 
“Oh, I know what it is,” said Ferdinand. 
“What’s that?” said Ben. 
“He figures if we go in there he can get a pen or a pencil off somebody.” 
“Still with the pen and pencil?” said Ben. “After me telling you something that like challenges every conception of human existence ever known to mankind –” 
“Or even to those who are not members of mankind,” said Ferdinand. 
“Right,” said Ben. “Even after me telling you the deepest and most like profound secret of existence all you can think about is getting a pen or a pencil?” 
“No,” I said, lying blatantly, but it was for Ben’s own good. 
“No?” he said. 
“No,” I said, lying also of course for my own good. “I wasn’t thinking about trying to get a pen or pencil at all. I was just thinking that after such a, such a –” 
“Such a what?” 
“After what you told me,” I said. “Your, uh, what would you call it?” 
“Revelation,” said Ferdinand. 
“Revelation,” I said. “After hearing such a, a –” 
“Disturbing revelation,” said Ferdinand. 
“Yes,” I said. “After hearing that –” 
“Mindbending,” said Ferdinand. 
“Yes,” I said. “Your revelation. After hearing it –” 
“Soul-searing,” said Ferdinand. 
“Such a soul-searing,” I said, “um –” 
“Revelation,” said Ferdinand. 
“Such a soul-searing revelation,” I said, “I really feel like I need a drink.” 
“Oh,” said Ben. “For real?” 
“Yes,” I said. “I mean, wow, that was just a real –” 
“Mindbender,” said Ben. 
“Right,” I said. 
“It was a mindbender all right,” said Ferdinand. “I know I could go for a drink after hearing that shit.” 
“Well, that’s different then,” said Ben. “And believe me, I understand. How you need a drink that it is. And you know what, buddy?” 
“No,” I said. 
He slammed me on the shoulder with that great hand of his, but I was still holding onto the iron rail, so I didn’t fall over. 
“The first round’s on me,” he said. “What you need is a nice big Planter’s Punch, with a float of ‘151’.”  
“Well, just a mug of draft beer maybe,” I said. 
“Bullshit,” he said. “Come on, pal, follow me.” 
He screwed his cap down lower over his forehead, turned, and ran up the steps and out to the sidewalk. 
Ferdinand flew into my ear. 
“Let’s go, pal,” he said. “I want to try one of these Planter’s Punches with a float of ‘151’. Sounds like a good tipple.”
I turned up the collar of my seersucker jacket and hobbled up the steps and out into the rain, and, first looking up and down the street to make sure I wouldn’t get run over, I shambled across as quickly as I could to join Ben who was already waiting, smoking his cigarette in the entrance to the Kettle of Fish, and holding the door open. 
When I got there under the shelter of the entranceway Ben waved at me to go first, and I went inside.

It felt like the ninety-ninth bar I had been in that night, and maybe it was. 

(Continued here, into the new year and no one knows how many more new years after that.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page for a current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold
Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, now available on your new Kindle©! Arnold’s saga now appears also in the Collingswood Patch™: “What the New Yorker is for the rest of the world.”)

Friday, December 20, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 376: three

Our relentless hero Arnold Schnabel has just encountered an old friend and an older nemesis, here amidst a crowd of literati dancing to jukebox rock-and-roll in that exclusive Greenwich Village basement bar called “Valhalla”, on this long hot night in August of 1957…

(Kindly go here to read our preceding chapter; potential obsessive devotés may click here to return to the faraway and all-but-forgotten beginnings of this 57-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)

“What could be a more perfect holiday gift for the dedicated bookworm than a complete set of the Publisher’s Clearinghouse™ edition of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, printed on acid-free ‘vellumesque’ paper, and bound in uniform ‘morocco-style’ covers in your choice of Livid Purple, Stygian Black, or Profound Brown? Or, if you’re too cheap for that, you can just get it on Kindle™. Whatever.” — Harold Bloom, in the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Weekly Newsletter.

“My book,” I said.

The attentive imaginary reader will have noticed I have this bad habit of repeating what people have just said to me. Perhaps this memoir would read less painfully if I pretended that such is and was not the case. But it’s too late for me to alter my methods now, and so I will resume my narrative.

“Yes,” said Lucky, or Nicky, I supposed he was “Nicky” in this incarnation. He held the book up a bit higher. “This book. It was lying on the floor. Is it yours?”

“Oh,” I said. “Yes. That is mine. Thanks.”

I started to reach out to take it, but he turned it around so that the front cover was facing him.

The Ace of Death,” he said. “By Horace P. Sternwall.” He looked at me. “Any good?”

“Hey,” said Ben, “if it’s by Horace P. Sternwall it’s got to be good.”

“Oh,” said Nicky.

He took a drag from his cigarette holder. Well, he took a drag from his cigarette, which was stuck into his cigarette holder. I feel I might be giving too much information, useless mindless information. But, again, I will stop second-guessing myself and resume my narrative.

“You’re a devoté of his work?” he said to Ben.

“A what?” said Ben, narrowing his eyes, as if he were peering off at the horizon.

“A fan,” said Nicky, Lucky, he. “Of –” He read off the words embossed on the cover of the book. “’Horace P. Sternwall’.”

“You kidding me?” said Ben.

“Oh no,” said my nemesis.

“Horace P. Sternwall?”


“I am a major fan of that guy,” said Ben.


“What? Sternwall? That guy writes like a motherfucker, man.”


“Yes 'indeed'. I gotta say I’d put old Sternwall in my top three or four favorite authors, right up there with Fredric Brown and Mickey Spillane.”

“I never heard of him,” said Nicky.

“You should check him out,” said Ben.

“Have you read this one?” said Nicky. “The, um, Ace of Death.”

“I don’t think so,” said Ben. “The ones I've read were all paperbacks, or else in magazines, you know, like Stag, or Argosy –”

“And you, Porter?” said Nicky. “Big fan of this 'Sternwall'?”

Before I could say anything Ben spoke.

“Y’know what’s a good one by Sternwall?” he said.

“No,” said Nicky.

Bound for Bintulu.”

Bound for –”


“'Bound for Bintulu', I’ll remember that.”

 “Yeah,” said Ben. “Another good one is The Boys All Called Her Lulu.”


“Yeah. Also, Return to Samarinda.”

Samarinda you say?” said Nicky.

Return to,” said Ben. “But basically if it’s Horace P. Sternwall you can’t go wrong. Only my opinion.”

“My name is Nicky, by the way,” said Nicky, so that was the name he was using. “Nicky Boskins.”

He transferred the book from his right hand to his left, and extended his right hand to Ben.

“Blagwell,” said Ben, and he took Nicky’s hand. “Ben Blagwell. They call me Big Ben Blagwell, on account of my size.”

“You are a large, brawny fellow, aren’t you?” said Nicky.

They were shaking hands now, but I could see that they weren’t just shaking hands but starting up one of those death-grip matches that I myself tried to so hard to avoid.

“Six-foot four,” said Ben, gritting his teeth, his cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth.

What do you weigh in at, big fella,” said Nicky, smiling tightly, and showing most of his gleaming white teeth. His cigarette holder was stuck in between those teeth, and angled up at about a 45-degree angle. “I want to say two-fifty, two-sixty?

More like,” Ben paused, the sweat pouring off his face now almost as if someone had turned on a sprinkler under his yachting cap – “two-forty.” He paused again. “I’d like to get down like to two-twenty-five, that was my good fighting weight.” He paused again. “Back in the navy.

Ah, a naval chap,” said Nicky, and now he was sweating also, which I don’t recall his ever having done before. “I should have guessed by your attire.” He paused. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but his skin was normally almost white as paper, but now it began to turn pink. “Are you – still serving?

Not,” said Ben, and now he was breathing heavily, “since the war.” He paused again. I looked at their hands, locked together, and I wondered if it was possible for those two hands to explode as one.

“The big one?” said Nicky, and he was breathing heavily now too.

The big one,” said Ben. “Tarawa. Peleliu. Saipan. Iwo.”

Not Okinawa?

I missed that one on account of my ship got torpedo-bombed and I got taken prisoner by a Jap sub after floating around in a rubber raft for thirty-nine days while my buddies died all around me one by one.

No one suggested you were a shirker,” said Nicky, and now his face was almost as red as Ben’s, which was pretty red normally but was now almost as red as a cut of roast beef before you put it in the oven.

And no one suggested you suggested I was a shirker,” said Ben, well, shouted actually, they were both shouting what with all the aforementioned noise all around us.

Give you a rough time did those Japs when they captured you?

Yeah,” said Ben. “You might say that. They had this special female Jap torture squad on that sub, and –”

“Female Jap torture squad?

You heard me. Female. Pretty good-looking, too. And it was hot in that sub, so all they wore was like these real short shorts –

“Hey,” I said, “look, I hate to interrupt, but could I have my book, Nicky? I have to go.”

“Oh,” said Nicky, still grimacing and speaking, yelling through his gritted teeth, I know that sounds impossible but he and Ben both were doing just that, yelling through their gritted teeth, even though Ben had a cigarette in his and Nicky had his cigarette holder in his, don’t ask me how. “Your book,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “If you don’t mind. I mean, you guys can keep shaking hands if you want, but I would like my book.”

Nicky stared at me and then looked at Ben.

Shall we call it a draw?

Call it what you like,” said Ben.

Very well,” said Nicky. “On the count of three shall we say?”


All right then. Who counts, you or me?”

Don’t matter to me, brother,” said Ben.

I was tired of this.

“Okay, I’ll do it,” I said. “One two three.”

Both of them looked at me, as if I were churlishly intruding, but, at last, staring into each other’s eyes, they seemed tacitly to agree on a certain moment, and they simultaneously separated their hands with a loud wet smacking sound.

They continued to stare at each other as they slowly fanned their now-misshapen right hands, and attempted to flex the fingers thereof.

“Can I have my book now?” I said to Nicky.

“Oh. Sure,” said Nicky.

He held it out.

I took it.

“Thanks,” I said. “Good night.”

“But what’s the big hurry?”

I looked at him.

He was acting as if I didn’t know he was the prince of darkness, as if I hadn’t fooled him and sent him back down to the depths of hell, and not just once but at least three times that I could remember.

Stay,” he said. “Let me buy you a drink. Let me buy both of you a drink.”

“I wouldn’t turn down a drink,” said Ben.

“No, sorry,” I said. “Thanks anyway.”

“But the night’s still young,” said Nicky.

I didn’t feel I owed him an explanation.

I was tempted just to ignore his question, to brush past him without another word and leave.

But I hate to be rude, so I decided to answer but keep it vague.

“I just want to go home,” I said.

“Y’know, Nicky’s right, Arnie,” said Ben. “The night is still young.”

“What did you call him?” said Nicky.

“'Arnie'. I know, I know, he’s supposed to be Porter, but to me he’s Arnie. Or Arnold.”

“Very interesting,” said Nicky.

“It is kind of interesting,” said Ben.

Suddenly there was one of those sonic pauses in the place, caused by the fact that the record on the jukebox had come to its end. Everyone who had been dancing all around us stopped dancing, and all those people stood there, their arms hanging down at their sides, panting.

“Okay, I’m going,” I said, and without further ado I started limping off through the now immobile dancers.

“Hey, wait up!” called Ben behind me, and I heard his great gallumphing steps and felt the tremors they sent through the floorboards.

I was near the end of the bar when he caught up with me.

I kept moving.

“Y’know, excuse me for saying so, but that was kind of rude, Arnie,” he said, shouted in my ear, because now another rock and roll record had come on.

“You don’t understand,” I shouted back, still hobbling along. “That guy is the devil.”

“Fuck me,” said Ben. “Really?”

“Yes,” I said.

“He seemed like a nice enough guy. A little gay maybe.”

“Take my word for it, he’s not a nice guy.”

I was at the door, and I pulled it open, went through and out, and Ben came out behind me.

We stood there in that shadowed sunken areaway, looking out at the rain, which I had forgotten all about but which was still coming down, but harder now, really coming down. The door to the bar closed behind us, sucking the noise of the place back inside so that it was only a gentle distant racket, not even as loud as the clattering of the rain on the sidewalk and the street and on the awning over Mr. Philpot’s shop above us.

“Great,” said Ben. “A fucking monsoon. And us without our slickers or an umbrella between us.”

I stood there a moment, looking at the rain falling down and dancing off the sidewalk, which was just below my eye level here.

“Now what?” said Ben.

I held the book up, and looked at it.

“I need something to write with,” I said. “I don’t suppose you have a pen or a pencil on you?”

“No,” said Ben. He patted his pockets. “I don’t think so.” 

He brought out what looked like a folded pocket-knife, and indeed that’s what it was. He pressed a button or a catch and a blade flipped out from the handle.

“How about a switchblade?”

“No thanks,” I said. “I just need a pen or a pencil.”


He folded the blade back in, and put the knife back into his pocket.

He stood there, smoking, looking out at the rain.

What the fuck,” said a small voice.

“What?” said Ben.

Where am I?” said the small voice.

“What is that?” said Ben. “You hear that, Arnie?”

“Yes,” I said.

“What is it? Who is it? It’s like some tiny voice from nowhere.”

Ferdinand flew up out of my shirt pocket and from inside my seersucker jacket and whirled around my head and then stopped and hovered shakily, apparently looking at Ben.

“Well, look who it is,” said my friend the fly. “The big galoot, himself.”

“Well, whaddaya know,” said Ben. “If it ain’t the mighty mite.”

“Bob Barkwell, right?” said Ferdinand.

“Close but no cigar, little fella. Blagwell, Ben Blagwell. They call me Big –”

“Big Ben Blagwell,” said Ferdinand.

“And you’re – Frederick, right?”

“Ferdinand,” said Ferdinand.

“Ferdinand, Ferdinand,” said Ben. “I knew that. Ferdinand.”

“That’s my name, don’t wear it out.”

“Ha ha, I won’t, little buddy. Arnie, why didn’t you tell me Ferdinand was with you?”

“Well, I didn’t really have a chance to, Ben,” I said.

“That’s okay, I’m not mad at you.” He addressed Ferdinand, who had come closer to his face, I think the better to breathe in the smoke from Ben’s cigarette: “What were you doin’, catchin’ a little shut-eye in Arnie’s shirt pocket?”

“Passed out, Ben,” said Ferdinand. “Binged a little on some laudanum, y’know?”

Laudanum? Tell me about it,” said Ben. “Good stuff, but it’ll fuck you right up if you’re not careful.”

“It ain’t in my nature to be careful, Ben,” said Ferdinand.

“Me neither, buddy, me neither,” said Ben. He looked at me. “You didn’t tell me you had laudanum, Arnie.”

“I don’t,” I said. “This guy Henry who runs that place had some.”

Ben rubbed the stubble on his jaw with the stubble on the back of his hand.

“I sure wouldn’t mind me a little laudanum.”

“Ben,” I said, “if you want to go back in and ask Henry for some –”

“Really? Would you mind waiting?”

I knew I had to stand my ground.

“Yes, Ben, I’m afraid I would mind.”

He took a pause here.

Ferdinand hovered between us, looking from one to the other.

Finally Ben spoke.

“You’re really on a mission, aren’t you, pal?”

“I’m trying to stay focused on my mission, yes,” I said.

“And it ain’t exactly working out too well for you, is it?”

“No,” I said. “But I have to keep trying.”

“That’s our Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “He’s nothing if not determined.”

“And I admire that,” said Ben. “I do.”

“Occasionally he forgets to relax a little,” said Ferdinand.

“I know,” said Ben. “But that’s our Arnie.”

“Love him or leave him,” said Ferdinand.

“He’ll never change,” said Ben.

“Not as long as he’s got a hole in his ass,” said Ferdinand.

“Y’know, I’m standing right here,” I said.

“Aw, we’re just fucking with you, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, and he made a playful pass at my face, veering away just before he would have crashed into my nose.

“Wait a minute,” I said. “It just occurred to me. You two know each other.”

“Of course we do,” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah, you knew that,” said Ben.

“But –”

I put my hand on one of the iron rails separating this sunken areaway from the sidewalk. I felt I needed to support myself, to keep from falling down, or maybe from flying away.

“When I last saw you, Ben, I mean back in my world, we were all together at Mr. Arbuthnot’s apartment.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Ben. “I remember. When you passed out.”

“Right,” I said. “And while I was passed out I came to this world.”

“Yeah? No kidding.”

“And –” I paused, trying to gather my thoughts. It was like trying to gather the sparkles on the rain falling and crashing on the sidewalk and the street, but I tried – ”and Ferdinand, you said you came here by crawling in my ear, by entering my mind somehow?”

“That is correct, sir,” said Ferdinand.

“So –” I stared blatantly at Ben. “How did you get here, Ben?”

Ben stared just as blatantly back at me.

“I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t ask me that, Arnie.”

He took a drag on his cigarette. It was just about all the way smoked down. He looked at the butt, and then flicked it up and out to the rainy street.

“Why?” I said.

“Pardon me?” said Ben.

“Why were you hoping I wouldn’t ask you that?” I said.

“Yeah, why, big guy?” said Ferdinand. “Spill.”

“If I tell you, Arnie," said Ben, "do you promise not to go insane?”

“I’m not going to go insane,” said Ferdinand.

“I ain’t worried about you, Ferdy,” said Ben. “I’m worried about Arnie here.”

“Don’t worry about me,” I said.

“So you promise you won’t go insane?”

I couldn’t promise that.

And I told him so.

(Continued here, and straight on to the dawning of a new age.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other legally-accessible of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, all contents approved by the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia, PA. Arnold’s adventures now appear also in the Collingswood Patch™: “The sole faint voice of literacy in the cultural wasteland that is South Jersey.”)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 375: sidekicks

Let’s rejoin our hero intrepid hero Arnold Schnabel here in one of the most exclusive of all Greenwich Village basement saloons, on this hot and rainy night in a version of August of 1957…

(Please click here to read our previous thrilling episode; the morbidly curious may go here to return to the barely-remembered misty beginnings of this 63-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“Once again the holidays approach, and what better present – be it for Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or some pagan sect – than a complete edition of Arnold Schnabel’s works on Kindle™, or, better still, in a handsome ‘morocco’-bound hardback edition, available by subscription only from
Publisher’s Clearinghouse™?” — Harold Bloom, in the Publisher’s Clearinghouse Weekly.

Over to the left through the mob I saw Hemingway and Jack and Bill, still at the bar, and, also, talking with them, smiling and gesturing with his cigarette holder – my nemesis: Lucky, or Nicky, or whatever the hell name he was going by these days, but it was him all right, the prince of darkness. 

I kept my head down and kept moving through that crowd of dancing people.

I didn’t know how Lucky had escaped from hell again, I didn’t care, and, most importantly, I didn’t want to find out. However, because I was hurrying with my head down I suppose I wasn’t paying quite so much attention as I should have as I made my way through that crowd of madly gyrating dancers, because I slammed into someone, or someone slammed into me, and someone’s foot caught under mine, and once again I came crashing to the earth, or in this case to the hard wooden floor.

A mixture of pain from both my knees and from my right elbow, of pain and humilation – and of impatience, and of general weariness – suffused my being for several seconds as I lay there with my face on the floor, which was covered with beer-dampened sawdust as well as tobacco ash and cigarette-and-cigar butts. I was tempted just to go to sleep right there, but I knew that wouldn’t do, and I also knew I probably wouldn’t be able to fall asleep there anyway in the midst of this throng of thrashing and stomping people, so there was nothing for it but to get up, or to try to get up.

But then to my surprise a strong hand gripped my right bicep and I found myself being lifted up, with another strong hand pulling me up from under my left armpit, both hands pulling me up as though I were nothing up an oversized rag doll, and then I was standing, in pain and dazed, and who should I see standing in front of me – indeed looming over me as he was about four inches taller than I – but my friend, I suppose I must call him that, even if he was a fictional character – Ben Blagwell.

He was still wearing the same outfit he’d been wearing every other time I had seen him: the sweat-stained yachting cap which had perhaps once been white, the unpressed, faded Hawaiian shirt, the worn dungarees; and as usual he looked like he hadn’t shaved his ginger whiskers in the better part of a week.

He was smiling, with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, and he was sweating profusely, as indeed was I.

“Arnie!” he said. “Or should I call you Porter?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said.

“You okay, buddy?”

(I should perhaps inform the reader – for perhaps someone will find these copybooks someday, moldering in a cardboard box in my aunts’ attic, and out of boredom or morbid curiosity actually start reading them – I should indicate to this hypothetical reader that Ben and I were in fact shouting at each other, because the barroom was still very noisy with yelling and laughing drunken people and rock and roll jukebox music.)

“Yes, I think so,” I said, shouted, which wasn’t true really, I was now in even greater pain than I had been in before, but nobody likes a complainer.

No one was paying attention to us, including whomever I had collided with and whoever’s foot I had tripped over. Everyone around us was dancing to the rock and roll music and having a good time, or at least trying to have a good time, they didn’t care about me and my troubles, and why should they have?

Ben let go of my my left arm but held onto the other one.

“Good,” he said, “let’s go then,” and he gave my right arm a pull, but not in the direction of the exit.

“Wait,” I said, shouted, “go where, Ben?”

“Back downstairs, where the broads are.”

“The broads?”

“Yeah, you know, Becky and Hester and Lady Brett.”

“Oh,” I said.

“I’m telling you, Arnie, these babes are ready to go. I got them all warmed up for you, especially that Lady Brett.”

He gave my arm another squeeze and a tug with that enormous hand of his, of course enormous was the only kind of hand he had, but I insert the adjective anyway. You can mentally change it to huge or hamlike, it doesn’t matter to me.

“What?” said Ben, because instead of saying anything I was trying to think of adjectives to describe his hands. I decided that hamlike was not really accurate. A ham had no fingers, and is usually not decorated with wiry ginger-colored hairs, and with scarred and callused knuckles.

“What, Arnie?” he said, again.

I came back to reality, to a sort of reality.

“I have to go, Ben.”

“Go? Why? I’m telling you, Arnie, these babes are ready to roll! Especially Brett, that English babe. She thinks you’re dashedly good-looking, Arnie. That’s the very phrase she used, ‘dashedly good-looking’.”

“Well, that’s nice, Ben,” I said, “but I really have to get out of here.”

“What? Don’t tell me – again with the going back to your own world routine?”

“Yes, Ben,” I said. “I know I’m a bore on the subject.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say you’re a bore on the subject, Arnie.”

He let go of my arm, and, for the first time since he had helped me up, he took his cigarette from his mouth, and gave it a tap, watching its ash fall to the floor.

“But I will say,” he said, and he was looking at me out of the corner of his eye, “if I may, that you have a fucking bee in your bonnet on the subject.”

“I know,” I said. With my left hand I rubbed my left right biceps, where Ben’s mighty hand had been gripping it with the strength of ten men. “But, Ben, you have to realize that to me it feels like I’ve been stuck in this world for about a year now.”

“A year?”

“Well, ten months, say.”

“Ten months.”

“Yes,” I said. “I mean it feels like it’s been that long.”

“So, okay, if it’s been ten months then why is it too much to ask you stick around another hour and get your end wet?”

“My what?”

“End wet.”

“I thought you said that,” I said. “But, look, Ben, I appreciate it, really I do, but, you see, for one thing, I have a girlfriend back in my own world.”



“And you want to get back to her.”

“Well, yes,” I said, but –”

“But what?”

“It’s not just her,” I said. “It’s my whole world. My universe. My body. Myself. I can’t really say why, but I want to get back to it. To my - you know –”

“To your world.”


Ben paused here, taking a drag of his cigarette, as the dancers churned and whirled all around our little two-man island, and occasionally bumping into one or the other of us.

“Y’know, Arnie,” Ben said, yelled, after this pause, which I must say seemed a little self-consciously dramatic, and he made it even more dramatic by leaning forward and aiming his yelling at my right ear, “if I may say so, I mean if I may be completely honest.”

“Sure,” I yelled back.

“It sounds better if you say you want to get back so you can rejoin Alberta.”

“Elektra,” I yelled.

“Whatever,” he said. “It just sounds better to say you want to get back to the woman you love.”

I had nothing to say to this. I said nothing.

“You ain’t mad at me, are you, Arnie?”

“No, of course not,” I said.

“But you see what I mean, right?”

“Um –” How could I tell him that I didn’t care what he meant? He was my friend after all, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. “I guess so,” I said.

“Then what do I mean?”

“I forget,” I said, which wasn’t really true, because you can’t forget something you never knew in the first place.

“What I mean is,” he yelled, “it’s more romantic like to say you want to get back to the woman you love.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

“There is a great tradition in that, like, concept,” he yelled in my ear. “The hero struggling like hell to get back to the woman he left at home.”

“Right. Like Ulysses,” I said.

“S. Grant?” said Ben.

“No,” I said. “I meant the mythological character called Ulysses.”

“Mythological character.”

“Yes,” I said. “He’s in this epic poem. I never read it, but I read the Classics Illustrated comic. He has to go through all these adventures to get back home to his wife.”

“Well, that’s exactly what I was talking about,” he said. “Except I was thinking about, say, Slaver of the Sulu Sea, by Horace P. Sternwall. You ever read that one?”

“No,” I said, “I don’t think so.”

“A rollicking red-blooded two-fisted aventure yarn about an American epidemiologist who gets kidnapped by these lesbian pirates, and –”

“Ben,” I said, “listen, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I really do have to get out of here.”

“And get back to the girl you left behind.”

“Yes,” I said. “Sure.”

At some point during the above exchange he had put his hand on my right arm again, and I am too lazy to go back and put in where he did, if it matters, which I doubt, but now he let go of it but then immediately slammed me on my shoulder with that enormous hamlike hand.

“Okay, then, let’s go, Arnie,” he said.

“Both of us?”

“Sure. We’re a team, you and me. You say you want to get back to your world, to Annabella –”

“Elektra,” I said.

“To her,” he said. “You say you want to get back to that babe, and Arnie, I’m gonna do what I can to help you do just that.”

“But what about the three dames, I mean young ladies, downstairs,” I said.

“They’re just gonna have to wait,” he said.

“They might have to wait a while,” I said. “I mean the way things have been going.”

“Let ‘em wait then.”

“Y’know, Ben,” I said, “don’t take this the wrong way, but I can probably make it by myself.”

“What? You don’t want my help?”

“Well, no, it’s not that,” I said, although to be honest, it was that. “But don’t you want to get back to, you know, Becky, and Hester, and, uh –”

“Brett, Lady Brett.”

“Lady Brett,” I said.

“I was gonna save Brett for you, pal, and I was hoping – hoping mind you – I might get some threesome action myself with Becky and Hester.”

“Well, then,” I said, “I wouldn’t want to spoil your fun –”

“You’re not spoilin’ nothin’, pal. Dames come and dames go, but a pal is a pal.”

“Um,” I said.

He gave me another playful but still painful blow on the shoulder, and I staggered to the side a half-step, but Ben grabbed me by my other arm.

“I’ll get you back to that girl of yours,” he said. “I’ll get you back to her or my name ain’t Big Ben Blagwell.”

“Okay,” I said, and sighed.

“But afterwards, I just might have to come back here, I mean if the joint’s still open.”

“Sure,” I said.

“’Cause there’s three girls down there, and I’m tellin’ ya, Arnie, they are hot to trot.”

“Well, uh –”

“So, sooner we get goin’, sooner I get you back to your gal, the sooner I can hightail it back here.”

“Okay. Great, let’s go then,” I said.

“Sure,” he said. “Come on, pal, let’s get a drink and talk over our plan of action.”

“Ben,” I said, “wait, I can’t get a drink here.”

“Why not?”

“It’s too much for me to explain right now, but I can’t stay here.”

I glanced over toward the bar. Lucky was still talking with Hemingway and Bill and Jack, he was laughing, waving his cigarette lighter around, the other three men had big grins on their faces, and I guessed that Lucky was telling a funny story.

“It’s somebody over at the bar there, right?” said Ben.

“I just have to go, Ben,” I said.

“You just point the bastard out to me and I’ll mop the floor with him.”

For half a second I was tempted. 

But, no.

“I really have to go, Ben,” I said.

“Why didn’t you just say so?” he said. “Come on, I’ll get you out of here, pal.”

Before he could grab me by the arm again I turned to go, but who should be standing there but Lucky, Nicky, whoever, the prince of darkness, smiling and holding his shiny black cigarette holder with a lit cigarette in it. He was wearing the same suit he’d worn when I last saw him, it was a nice slightly iridescent grey suit without a wrinkle in it. His face was perfectly shaven, and his dark hair was gleaming and neat as if he had just got up from the barber’s chair. His teeth were whiter than pearls and they glistened like pearls. His eyes were not brown or blue or hazel but a deep purplish black.

“Hi, there, buddy,” he said. He held up a book with a green cover. “I think you dropped your book.”

(Continued here; what else can we do?)

(Please turn 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©. Now published also in the Collingswood Patch™: “South Jersey’s last gasp of literacy, humanism, and reasoned discourse.”)

Friday, December 6, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 374: laudanum

On a hot rainy night in August of 1957, let’s rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel (now trapped in the fictional persona of “Porter Walker, bohemian poet”) and his associates – Thurgood, Pat, Henry James, and of course Ferdinand the talking fly – here in the cramped smoky office of that peculiar Greenwich Village watering hole known as “Valhalla”…

(Please click here to read our previous chapter; go here to return to the long ago and far away beginnings of this 72-volume Gold View Award™-winning masterpiece.)

“What better way to spend a cold November evening than sitting in one’s easy chair by the fire with a cup of hot
Fox’s U-bet™  cocoa, a fatty of prime sensemilla, and a volume of Railroad Train to Heaven©  on one’s lap.” — Harold Bloom, in High Times.

“So you want to read some of my book now, Porter?” said Thurgood.

He looked so eager, and sad, sadly eager sitting there in his chair, holding his drink and his cigarette in his left hand, and as if shyly holding up with his right hand his book, turned so that its cover was facing me.

But I didn’t want to read his stupid novel now, and I knew it was a stupid novel because after all, had I not been in it and experienced quite a few stupid adventures therein? 

The more I thought about it the more my offering to read aloud from his book seemed like a bad idea. 

What I really wanted to do right now was just to get away somewhere and write my own book, which would probably be just as stupid, but at least it would be mine.

But here again I was trapped by my lifelong reluctance to go back on my word, a reluctance which I now realize is absurd. Why should we be held to something we might have said in a state of ignorance, of idiocy, or madness? But, nevertheless, reluctant I was to refuse the man.

“Just like ten pages,” he said, raising his book slightly up and slightly down, suggestively. “Ten, fifteen pages.”

I sighed.

“What?” said Thurgood.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“You sighed.”

“Oh,” I said. “Um. I guess I’m just getting a little, uh,  tired –”


“I mean,” I said, “it’s been a long day. And it is kind of hot and stuffy in here.”

“Sorry,” said Henry. He gave a small wave with his cigar. “No air conditioning.”

In the short time we had been in here the office had gotten only hotter, stuffier, smokier. For the seventy-fifth time in the past few hours I realized that I was streaming with sweat. I could feel the perspiration pooling around my feet in my heavy work shoes.

“So what are you saying,” said Thurgood, “you don’t want to read from my book after all?”

“Nobody wants to hear your boring book, Thurgood,” said Pat. She tapped her cigarette and its ash fell to the ashy floor.  “And Porter doesn’t want to read from it, either.”

“But he said he would read it from it,” said Thurgood. “Didn’t you, Porter?”

“Well, yeah,” I said, “but –”

“But what?”

“I guess all of a sudden I do sort of feel like, you know, just going home, taking a shower, and –”

“But you said you would read from my book." He took a quick and furious drag on his cigarette, and exhaled so hard the plume of smoke shot at me like a guided missile and exploded against my chest. “You can go home and take a shower afterwards,” he said, a little more calmly.

“That’s true,” I said.

“So you’ll read a little bit? Just five pages.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Five or ten pages.”

“Um,” I said. “Uh, okay.”

“Gee,” he said. “You don’t seem enthusiastic.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m, uh, enthusiastic.”

“You don’t sound enthusiastic.”

“Maybe he had an attack of sanity,” said Pat.

“Ha ha, good one, milady,” said Henry.

“Thanks, pops,” said Pat.

“Ow,” I said.

I had just received an electric bolt of pain under my right knee cap. I shifted my weight to my left leg.

“What? Now what?” said Thurgood.

“Oh, it’s just this knee,” I said, making a slow thwarted kicking movement with my bad leg.

“Your knee.”

“Yes, my knee hurts,” I said. “It gets worse when I stand too long.”

“Oh. That’s too bad,” said Thurgood. But I couldn’t help but notice that neither he nor the other two occupants of the only three chairs in this office offered to get up and give me a seat.

One of the sore spots on my head started to ache harder all of a sudden, as if someone had just given it a sharp tap with a ball-peen hammer. Gingerly I touched this fresh locus of pain, and I suppose I couldn’t help but grimace.

“Ow,” I said, again.

Now what?” said Thurgood.

“I hurt my head too,” I said.

“Your hurt your knee and your head?” said Thurgood, in a challenging way.

“Yes, my knee and my head,” I said. “My head in two places actually, but mostly it’s my knee that hurts, my leg –”

“You know, Porter,” said Henry, “if your leg and your head are hurting you I’ve still got this.”

He reached into the side pocket of his suit and took out a small dark brown bottle or vial with a cork in it.

Suddenly Ferdinand sailed up again out of the Dixie Cup he had been in, flew in a corkscrew trajectory over the desk, and began buzzing around the vial.

“Whatcha got there, Hank?” said Ferdinand.

“Ha ha,” said Henry. “’Hank!’ Why no one has called me Hank since, since – well, in point of fact, my minuscule friend, no one has ever called me Hank!”

“Yeah? So what’s in the bottle, Hank?” said Ferdinand.

Laudanum, my dear fellow,” said Henry. “Laudanum of the finest and purest manufacture. Would you care to try some?”

“Would I?” said Ferdinand. “Of course I would, and thank you very much, man.”

“Just a tiny bit, mind,” said Henry. “It is rather strong, and, after all, you do have a somewhat shall we say undersized body.”

“Don’t worry about me, Hank,” said Ferdinand. “I got the metabolism of a fly.”

“Ha ha, quite risible!” said Henry.

“Yeah, risible as all hell,” said Ferdinand. “Now pull that cork out, daddy-o.”

“Um, wait a minute,” I said. “Isn’t laudanum a, um, narcotic?”

“Yes, of course it is,” said Henry. “And a most excellent narcotic too, I might add.”

“Y’know, I’ve always wanted to try laudanum,” said Thurgood.

“What is laudanum, actually?” said Pat.

“A narcotic,” said Thurgood. “Some kind of tincture of opium or something –”

“Ooh, opium!” said Pat. “I want to try some too. Can I have some, Henry? Just a sip?”

“Oh,” said Henry, “I daresay that there’s enough in this little bottle for us all to get nicely high. Plus it’ll definitely obviate Porter’s aches and pains for him. I do think we should let him have the largest portion, don’t you?”

“Sure,” said Pat. “I only want a little bit.”

“Let’s go, Hank,” said Ferdinand. “Pull the cork, big guy.”

Henry put his cigar in his mouth, pulled the cork, and Ferdinand as usual couldn’t control himself, but flew like a shot right into the mouth of the vial.

Henry put down the cork and then took his cigar from his mouth.

“Oh, my,” he said.

“Boy, he was eager,” said Pat.

“Greedy little guy,” said Thurgood.

We all were quiet for a moment. The noise of the jukebox music and the bar full of shouting and laughing and dancing people continued unabated right outside the office door, but we inside here were silent.

Henry raised the little bottle to one eye and peered in.

“I don’t see him,” he said. “Hello? Hello, my insectoid friend?”

“Oh, jeeze,” I said.

I limped over to Henry’s side of the desk.

“Can I see that, please, Henry?” I said.

“But of course, dear Porter,” said Henry. “Did I not in all verisimilitude extract it from the deepest recesses of my habiliments for the sole objective of mollifying your own physical discomforts?”

“Right,” I said.

I put my drink and my book on the desk and took the proffered brown vial from Henry’s pudgy hand.

“Ferdinand,” I said into the dark open mouth of the vial. “You’ve had enough, now come out of there.”

“Yeah,” said Pat, “save a little for us, man.”

Ferdinand didn’t reply.

I lifted the vial to my eye, bending my head and peering into it just as Henry had done, but it was too dark in there, I could see nothing but what looked like cough syrup.

Quickly I picked up my Dixie Cup and drank down in a gulp its remaining contents.

“There you go, Porter,” said Henry, “drunk down like a stout fellow!”

I ignored him, and gasped; I’ve never been good at drinking shots of whiskey, I’m more the slow-sipping, savoring the accruing oblivion kind of guy. Anyway, raising up the now empty Dixie Cup, I brought the vial up next to it, and, tilting the cup to an almost horizontal angle, I brought the mouth of the vial to just over the cup’s rim, and carefully tipped the bottle until a reddish-brown liquid started to ooze from it. I suppose I had poured out an ounce, when, sure enough, Ferdinand’s tiny body came sliding out in the little dark river.

I stopped pouring, and kept the cup tilted, so that Ferdinand lay against the side of the inside of the cup.

“Got him,” I said.

“Oh, I say, well done!” said Henry.

“What a hog,” said Pat.

“Is he dead?” said Thurgood.

I said nothing. Ferdinand was perfectly immobile and silent, but I knew by now how hardy he was, or could be. I put down the vial, and then, sticking my index finger into the cup, I scooped  him out on my fingertip.

“He looks dead,” said Pat.

“Too bad,” said Thurgood. “Well, at least he died happy.”

“Poor little chap,” said Henry. “Well, shall we all have a little dose in his memory? The taste is quite bitter I’m afraid, but if you chase it with a gulp of this fine barrel-aged malt it’s not so bad.”

“Wait,” I said.

Putting down the Dixie Cup, I brought Ferdinand close to my mouth and blew on him, gently, once, then twice. 

A second passed, and I thought I saw a tiny leg stir. 

I blew again, and this time a wing flapped once, lazily.

“Is he alive?” said Pat.

“I think so,” I said.

“Good, lay him down and let’s all try some of this laudanum stuff.”

I blew on him once more, and now his other wing flapped, just barely, but it did move.

“Ferdinand,” I said. “Ferdy. Can you hear me, pal?”

Wha,” he said, after a slight pause.

“Oh, bravo,” said Henry.

“Hey, well done, Porter,” said Thurgood.

“Hooray, the fly lives,” said Pat.

Wha?” said Ferdinand.

He weakly raised one of his legs and slowly flapped a wing, and I had another brainwave.

“Listen,” I said, darting quick glances at the other humans in the room, “I think I’d better take him outside, get him some fresh air.”

“Oh, he’ll be fine,” said Thurgood.

“Yes, he’s a hardy little fellow,” said Henry.

“Yeah, he’s all right,” said Pat. “Take more than a little laudanum to kill that fly.”

“No,” I said, “I really think I should get him out in the air.”

I put down the Dixie Cup with the laudanum in it.

Wha?” said Ferdinand. “Whuzzit?

“Hang in there, buddy,” I said. “I’ll take care of you.”

“Aww,” said Pat.

“Touching,” said Henry.

“So I’ll just step outside,” I said, and I started to come out from behind Henry’s desk.

“Wait,” said Thurgood. “Aren’t you going to read from my book?”

“Maybe later,” I said. “I’m just a little worried about my friend here.”

“But the laudanum?” said Henry. “Don’t you want some?”

I paused, and I glanced at the cup with the reddish brown liquid in it. It was tempting; after all I was in pain. But then I decided a little pain wasn’t so bad, especially compared to what might happen if I started drinking laudanum.

“Maybe later,” I said, and I took another painful step.

“Porter,” said Henry.

I stopped, turned and looked at the fat man.


He reached over and picked up my book, The Ace of Death, my novel consisting of nothing, nothing but nothing, or at least nothing as yet.

I hobbled back and took the book with my free hand, then turned again, took another step.

Pat’s hand grabbed me by the forearm.

“You coming back, Porter?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. I was still holding Ferdinand aloft on the tip of my right index finger. “I’ll have to see how he’s doing.”

She let her hand slide down my arm to my hand, and then off it until she was touching my upper thigh, massaging my thigh, the inner part.

I think I neglected to mention that the erection which Pat had caused me to be possessed of back in the barroom had retreated to flaccidity during that frustrating time when we were dealing with the lock to this office. But now, as she kneaded my thigh with her red-nailed fingers, I felt the first throbbings of the erection – or a different but identical one – returning, again.

Unfortunately I held my book in one hand and I had Ferdinand on the tip of my index finger of the other, and so I was unable to pry Pat’s hand loose from my thigh. Instead I tried simply to step away, stepping first with my uninjured leg (relatively uninjured; in truth I had several bruises on that leg as well), and then trying to step with the leg whose upper inner thigh she was massaging, the right one, but she gripped tight on the material of my jeans and wouldn’t let go, and I actually dragged her and the chair she sat in with me for half a foot.

“Pat,” I said. “Please.”

“Oh, go then,” she said. 

She let go of my jeans. But then she slapped my rear end.

“But come back, Porter,” she said, in a low but commanding voice, as she stared up into my eyes. 

Then she gave my rear end a squeeze.

“Um, uh, sure, uh, maybe,” I said.

Abruptly she took her hand away from my buttock and looked away from me, towards Henry, and his laudanum bottle.

“Okay, Henry,” she said. “Let’s do it.”

I took another hobbling step and then another, and I was at the door. I turned the deadbolt, opened the door and went out into that crowded bar.

I closed the door behind me. I had my book and I had Ferdinand on my fingertip.

“Whadza,” he said.

“It’s okay, Ferdinand,” I said.

None of that dancing throng seemed to notice or care that I was having a conversation with a fly on my fingertip.

Wheh we goan,” said Ferdinand.

“Pardon me?” I said.

Goin’,” he said. “Where we goin’

“We’re getting out of here,” I said.

Just to be on the safe side I carefully dropped him into my shirt pocket for safe-keeping, and then I forged forth into that mob of dancing and shouting and laughing people.

(Continued here, for the greater good of all mankind.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page and scroll down to find a current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Now appearing also in the
Collingswood Patch™: “South Jersey’s last bastion of cultural literacy.”)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

An Arnold Schnabel Potpourri, Part 4

In honor of the recent national holiday, and not at all because of the woeful laziness of your humble amanuensis, the next installment of Arnold Schnabel’s immortal classic Railroad Train to Heaven™ will be delayed for one week, and in its stead we present another of our occasional collections of excerpts from that sprawling masterwork.

Enjoy, responsibly.

I told the little voice to be quiet and to go away, at least for now. 


That was it, I felt like I was coming home, even though it was a home I’d never had, a home I had never been to. I had walked through hell to get here. But now that I was here, now that what remained of me was here, I was glad.


I much prefer books about hardworking young men who somehow commit murder or who become trapped in webs of betrayal.


I didn’t know what to say, which is not unusual for me of course. However, after many years of social doltishness, I’ve gradually realized that people are much more comfortable if you say something, anything other than saying a great resonant nothing, no matter how inane…


That was it for me, I had exhausted my supply of sparkling repartée.


What would it be like if I had to have my legs amputated?

On the plus side I wouldn’t have to go anywhere.

On the negative side I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere, except in a wheel chair.


“At least I’m not a pseudo-intellectual,” said Steve.

“Steve,” said Miss Rathbone, “you’re not any sort of intellectual.”


Both my legs were more or less completely numb now, my brain a little less so.


“Don’t think I didn’t see you looking at me,” she said.

It’s true, I had been shooting her the odd glance, but only in the way one would keep an eye on a large cat known for sudden attacks of hysteria. 


Her face was like an enormous close-up from some old black-and-white movie, the part where the heroine says something extremely dramatic.


“False modesty will get you nowhere with me.”

“I assure you my modesty is warranted,” I said.


Where was my friend Jesus when I needed him, I wondered.

“Right here, buddy,” he said.


I moved quickly. I certainly wouldn’t have put it past her to come running out after me and grabbing me again, perhaps to throw me down on the hall carpet with a jiu-jitsu maneuver.


I suppose I looked like a lunatic. Which I suppose is what I should have looked like, since I was acting like a lunatic.



At the foot of the stairs I could hear the gentle, crackling-leaf voices of the old people in the dining room, playing their canasta or shooting craps or whatever it was they were doing.


The kitchen was empty of other human beings, but I felt life all around me, as if even the walls of this house were alive.


Sometimes it's hard to say enough, and sometimes I think it's easy to say too much. I've come to realize that some men's souls are like bombed-out cities. But even the most bombed-out city can be rebuilt in time.


And she brushed past us and into the kitchen, leaving a fugitive fragrance of dried roses and Scotch.


I’ve come to realize that when it comes to odd behavior I am in no position to be critical.


He was sitting near the open French doors, but rather than facing the terrace and the dark green sea beyond he sat sideways, facing in the direction of the bar, so that with a look to his right he could gaze on the saloon and its inhabitants, and by looking to the left he could gaze at the ladies under their parasols, the gentlemen in their straw hats, the bright green neatly-mown grass, the quietly stirring chrysanthemums, the sea with its toylike boats in slow motion, and, off farther to the left, a grove of sighing lindens, and, under the trees, benches with people sitting at them, the women’s dresses as colorful and exuberant as the flowers that exploded gently all about these sunny grounds.


Dick said some names I didn’t recognize and whose sounds left no corresponding sequence of letters on my brainpan.


“He says he has no idea what he’ll write about,” said Dick. “Because he doesn’t really do much in his life and he says he has no imagination to create stories and characters.”

“Tell him I’ve never let any of that stop me,” I said.


We then experienced one of those silences that drift over the best of conversations.


I drank my beer.

If this was one of my psychotic episodes it was certainly one of my more realistic ones.


It had always been my policy that if I must get drunk I would do it within easy stumbling distance of my own humble abode.


In the day’s waning light even more of the ladies had come out to sit or stroll on the terrace or to stand by the trelliswork fence gazing out at the sea which was now blazing up in the setting sun, and it’s true that with their delicate parasols and their hats blossoming like mad flowers and their voluminous dresses of rich reds and blues and greens and purples and with their light singing voices on the breeze they seemed like a garden that had somehow become human.


Right then and there I just didn’t feel like exposing yet another facet of my lunacy.


…but in a sense I walked around every day feeling as if I had been transported into the future, a minor character in an impossibly long and plotless episode of The Jetsons.


It was all starting to come together now.

(Kindly tune in next week when we will present an all-new thrilling episode of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven© in its usual time-slot. This has been a Horace P. Sternwall Production,in association with penmarq studios™ ; all contents vetted and approved by the Arnold Schnabel Society. )

Saturday, November 23, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 373: novel

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel here with his companions (Thurgood, Pat, Henry James and Ferdinand the fly) in the cramped, hot and stuffy manager’s office of that strange Greenwich Village boîte known as "Valhalla"…

(Kindly go here to read our preceding thrilling episode; click here to return to the all-but-forgotten beginning of this 69-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“I tell my students that Arnold Schnabel is not merely part of ‘the canon’, nay, but a canon in and of himself.” — Harold Bloom, blurb for the paperback edition of
Duck’s Blood Soup: the Philosophy of Arnold Schnabel, by Dan Leo, the Olney Community College Press.

I had been gypped.

I had paid Mr. Philpot five dollars for this so-called novel, almost half of my savings in this world, and here the book didn’t have even a single word in it. Not to mention not a single picture.

“My dear Porter,” said Henry, “aren’t you having a libation?”

Porter. That was me.

“Oh, right, thanks,” I said. 

I closed the book and went the few steps over to the desk (and indeed this office was so small that it was impossible to go much more than a few steps in any direction).

Thurgood and Pat had already reached out and grabbed a Dixie Cup apiece, Henry held another one up in a sort of tentative salute, and I saw that Ferdinand was already floating in the liquid in one cup, lapping away. 

I picked up the remaining Dixie Cup.

Henry raised his cup higher, with a very serious-looking expression on his face. It occurred to me that the face of a fat man was somehow even more depressing when it looked serious than that of a normally-sized or even skeletally thin man. Nonetheless, I forced myself not to look away from him, not wanting to seem rude, as I was sure that no one likes to know that his visage engenders a horror of life in the viewer.

“Let us drink to literature,” said Henry.

“Here, here,” said Thurgood, “to literature.”

“Bottoms up, fellas,” said Pat, and she took a slug.

Henry didn’t drink yet though, because he wasn’t finished his toast.

“But,” he said, “let us drink not to trashy literature, nor to evanescent best-sellers, to insubstantial and passing fads, no, let us drink to great literature.”

“Now you’re talking,” said Thurgood. “To great literature,” and he put his cup to his lips and drank.

“Excuse me, but I’m not quite finished,” said Henry.

“Oh, sorry, ” said Thurgood, and he wiped his lips with the sleeve of his suit jacket. “Please, go on, Mr. James.”

Without a second’s pause Henry went on.

“Let us drink then only to the greatest of the great books,” he said, “those books which will outlive us all, those books which will live, indeed, forever!”

No book will live forever,” said Ferdinand’s voice, echoing up from his Dixie Cup. 
“What’s that, my infinitesimal fellow?” said Henry.

“You heard me,” said Ferdinand, and he flew up from his little lake of liquor and perched on the rim of his cup. “No book lives forever, because someday everything will die. This whole world and everything in it. The whole shooting match. Dead, gone, remembered by no one and nothing.”

“Everything?” said Henry.

“Everything,” said Ferdinand. “Unless of course the human race figures out a way to travel to another habitable planet before this one dies. But I wouldn’t bet on that eventuality.”

No one said anything. There was nothing to say to this.

“The truth hurts,” said Ferdinand. “But things could always be worse. Try being a fly. Go ahead. Try it. Well, let me tell ya, being a fly is no fun, no matter what anyone tells you.”

There was another silence here, not complete silence of course, as the jukebox music still blared right outside the door of this small office, but inside the office everyone was silent for a few moments.

“Well,” said Henry, at last. “Shall we drink then to the books that live at least as long as the human race lives?”

“Whatever,” said Ferdinand, and he dove back down into his cup.

“Amen,” said Thurgood, and he took another drink. 

Henry also took a drink, while Pat, who had realized she still held in one hand the cocktail glass she had come in here with, poured what was left of her new drink into the glass, swirled it around in the melting ice cubes in it, and took another drink. Then, with a slight sigh, she crumpled up her now empty Dixie Cup and tossed it onto the desk.

“Trash that for me, will you, Henry?” she said.

“Of course, milady,” said Henry, and he picked up the wadded paper cup and flipped it backhanded toward an overflowing wire wastebasket under the staircase to his right. The cup hit the side of the basket and caromed to the floor. I considered going over and picking it up, but decided on the spot, for once, not to bother. There would probably be a lot more trash on that floor before this night was over. Perhaps even I would be on that floor before the night was over.

“You are not drinking, Porter,” said Henry.

“Oh,” I said. I was getting used to being called Porter. 

I raised my Dixie Cup and took a drink. It tasted like scotch, but also a little like bourbon, and, to be honest, it also reminded me a little of plain ordinary Schenley’s whiskey, which is what I often drank if I just wanted a cheap shot of potential oblivion.

“So, what do you think?” said Henry. “As I was saying, this is my extra special private stock, aged thirty years in Madeira barrels –”

“Good shit,” said Ferdinand, and he flew up out of his cup and landed on its rim again. “Damn good shit, Henry.”

“Why, thank you, my microscopic friend,” said Henry. “I am so glad you are enjoying it.”

“Good shit,” said Pat. 

She opened her fingers and let her burnt-down cigarette drop to the floor, even though there was an ashtray right in front of her on Henry’s desk, and all she would have had to do was lean forward and extend her arm a bit. But to be fair to her I should mention that there were quite a few other cigarette and cigar stubs on that floor. She didn’t seem disposed to step on the butt, and so I did. 

“Yeah, really good shit,” said Thurgood. “So, Porter, you said you wanted to read some of my book?”

“Oh, God,” said Pat, and she took another sip from her glass.

“Just a brief passage,” said Thurgood. “Ten or twenty pages.”

He held his book out in my direction. His outstretched arm was near Pat’s face, and she pushed it away.

“Right,” I said.

It had been my idea, after all, part and parcel of my recent brainwave. I started to step over to take the book, but Henry held up his hand, not the one that cradled his drink, but his other one, which had his still-burning cigar in it.

“Perhaps Mr. Thurgood would like first to say a few prefatory words.”

“Words?” said Thurgood.

“Yes. Prefatory,” said Henry.

“Prefatory,” said Thurgood.

“Like a preface,” said Ferdinand.

“I need another cigarette if I’m going to listen to this crap,” said Pat.

“I have cigarettes!” said Thurgood.

He reached into his jacket pocket and brought out two slightly damp and malformed cigarettes, and I figured these must be the ones he had stolen from Mr. Philpot’s engraved wooden cigarette box earlier that evening, or a year-and-a-half ago, depending on how you looked at it.

Pat took one of the cigarettes, and put it in her mouth, and, while Thurgood proceeded to fish out a kitchen match and strike it on his dirty thumbnail, I thought over my brainwave.

My plan such as it was (and it could not have been more vague and half-baked if I had tried to make it so) had been to enter into the world of Thurgood’s novel by reading aloud from it, and then somehow try to pass from that fictional universe back into my own and presumably non-fictional world. After all, hadn’t I previously traveled into not just one but two other worlds by reading his book, and then back into this one? If I had done this sort of thing once, couldn’t I do it again?

Thurgood had lit cigarettes for both Pat and himself, and now they both sat back in their armchairs, exhaling clouds of smoke which immediately merged with that originating from Henry’s cigar, and after slowly waving out the match Thurgood politely leaned forward and dropped it into the ashtray on the desk instead of tossing it to the floor. The smoke from the two cigarettes and one cigar was already filling this little room, and I could almost feel the oxygen being forced up the spiral metal staircase toward that narrow dark corridor that led to Mr. Philpot’s shop.

“So,” said Henry, “Burwood.”

“Yes?” said Thurgood. I guess he was afraid to correct Henry.

“Tell us about your book.”

“My book?” said Thurgood.

He looked at the front cover cover drawing of a man standing on a street corner, holding a suitcase and smoking a cigarette.

“Yes,” said Henry. “Tell us a little about your book.”

“Well - it’s called Two Weeks in a One Horse Town,” said Thurgood.

Two weeks you say,” said Henry.

“Yes,” said Thurgood. “In a One Horse Town.”

“I see,” said Henry. “Would that I could come up with such an arresting title for one of my own books. Do go on. Please tell us something about it.”

“Oh,” said Thurgood. “Something about it?”

“Yes,” said Henry, and if this reads painfully I assure you it was even more painful in actuality.

“Okay,” said Thurgood. “Let’s see. Well, there’s this guy, see, this man, and he comes to this town, this –”

“One horse town?” said Henry.

“Exactly,” said Thurgood. “He comes to this one horse town.”

“For two weeks I suppose.”

“Yes,” said Thurgood. “Two weeks.”

“And why does he come to this town?”


“Yes. I assume he had some reason for going to this town.”

“Right,” said Thurgood. “His reason. Well –”

He looked at me, and I could see the poor fellow was pleading for help, being put on the spot like this when after all he had never even seen his book before this very night.

“If I may interject,” I said.

“Oh, please do, Porter,” said Henry.

“Well,” I said, “I haven’t read Thurgood’s entire book yet, but from what I have read I think the reader doesn’t really know why the man goes to the town.”

“Ah,” said Henry.

“However, he does seem to be running away from something.”

“Right,” said Thurgood. “Exactly. He’s running away.”

“But as to what it is he's running away from," I said, trying to sound as if I cared, "it’s a mystery.”

“Right,” said Thurgood. “A mystery.”

“So the reader’s like kept in, um –”

I was running out of steam, but Henry jumped in.

“Suspense?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Ah,” he said. “Mystery and suspense.”

“Yeah,” said Thurgood, although he didn’t sound so sure of it. “I mean, that’s okay, right?”

“Certainly,” said Henry. “I used both mystery and dare I say suspense in a little bagatelle I wrote myself, perhaps you’ve read it. The Turn of the Screw?”

“Turn of the Screw,
” said Thurgood. “You know I’ve always meant to read that.”


“I hear it’s – swell.”


“Yes. Like, really good.”

“So some people seem to think.”

“I mean I’ve heard it’s really good,” said Thurgood.

“Well, that’s reassuring,” said Henry. “But tell us, Kerwood, what were the themes you wished to pursue in this work?”

“The themes?”

“Yes. The deeper subject matter. It can’t just be about a man stopping in a small town for two weeks, can it? It must have some deeper level?”

“Deeper level,” said Thurgood. He shifted around in his seat, and took another drink from his Dixie Cup. “The deeper level.”

“Yes. Presuming it has a deeper level,” said Henry.

“Oh, sure, sure it does,” said Thurgood. He took a drag from his cigarette and glanced over at me again with a look like that of a man who knows that you are the only one in the world who can give him an alibi proving he really wasn’t at the scene of a murder.

I felt sorry for him, and so I began to speak nonsense again.

I think the deeper level is man’s sense of being lost in the modern world,” I said. “A sense of always striving for a place of belonging.”

“Right!” said Thurgood. “That’s exactly it. Thank you, Porter.”

“You’re welcome,” I said.

“And this is really what you had in mind when you sat down to write it?” said Henry.

“When I – sat down to write it?” said Thurgood.

“Yes,” said Henry. “Unless you write standing up. Or lying down.”

“Well, I, um, yeah, sure, I guess,” said Thurgood.

“Great,” said Henry. “Because I’ll tell you right now I hate these so-called novelists who sit down to write something with no deeper level in mind.”

“Me too,” said Thurgood. “You gotta have that deeper level.”

“A theme,” said Henry.

“Definitely,” said Thurgood.

I saw that Pat’s eyes had closed, and although she still held her drink in one hand and her cigarette in the other, she emitted a gentle snoring sound. 

“Wait a minute, though,” said Thurgood. “I just remembered. It’s also about redemption.”

Redemption?” said Henry. “What the hell does that mean?”

“Well, you know,” said Thurgood, “at the end of the book the hero gets, like, redeemed –”

“What twaddle. What is he, a pawn ticket?”

Pat’s head bobbed up and her eyes opened.

“Ha ha,” she said.

“All right, this is driving me insane,” said Ferdinand. “I’m having another drink.”

“Me too,” said Pat.

Ferdinand dove down into his cup again, the third time for him, and Pat lifted her glass to her lips.

Henry raised his cup to his lips again also, and suddenly I had another brainwave.

Maybe it wasn’t such a good thing for me to read aloud from Thurgood’s book. After all, what had my previous reading done for me but bring me right back to where I had started from? And, conversely, if that’s the word, and it’s probably not, maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that the pages of my own book were blank.

A blank page was a page that hadn’t been written yet, and a book full of blank pages was a world that hadn’t been created yet.

I looked at the plain green cover of my book, with its embossed dark blue lettering.

The Ace of Death

a novel of despair and terror


Horace P. Sternwall

Perhaps it was up to me to create the world of this book, and if it was up to me, then maybe I could create a world in which I could go back home.

“You look very pensive, my dear Porter,” said Henry. “Is something on your mind?”

“No,” I lied.

(Continued here, and for no one really knows how long now, as yet another cardboard box of marble copybooks filled with Arnold Schnabel’s small but meticulous handwriting has just recently been discovered in the rafters of his aunts’ house in Cape May, NJ.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find an up-to-date listing of links to all other other legally-accessible chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©; accept no substitutes. Now published simultaneously in the Collingswood Patch™: “So much more than a small-town gossip rag.”)