Saturday, January 12, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 329: Tom

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, currently inhabiting the corporeal form of “Porter Walker, handsome young bohemian poet”, a character in Ye Cannot Quench (Harcourt, Brace; 1960) by Gertrude Evans, the author of such other forgotten bestsellers as Green My Eyes, Black My Soul; The Temptation of Reverend Cartwright; and An Empty Pit Where Once Was My Heart... 

(Kindly go here to read our previous chapter; in case you’re home with the grippe and have nothing to read, just click here to return to the faraway beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 62-volume masterpiece.)

“I should have suspected I would catch cold last week when I dined at the local Red Lobster and my waitress kept having to blow her nose. Fortunately I have my Kindle and Arnold Schnabel to keep me company as I sit with a rug on my lap by a roaring fire and with a hot toddy close to hand.” — Harold Bloom, in his “Bookish Chat” column,
The Olney Times.

“What’s your moniker, fella?” said this Tom guy.

Moniker. That word again, which, except in movies or TV shows, I had never heard spoken before yesterday, that yesterday which felt like more than four or even forty years ago.

“I say what’s your handle, partner,” said Tom. “Unless you’re one of these mysteriously unnamed characters, or maybe like an anonymous first-person narrator?”

“No,” I said. “I have a name.”

“And if it’s no secret?”

“Well, I suppose it’s Porter, Porter Walker,” I said.

“Porter Walker? Sounds like a high-class, kind of fancy name. You sure this book you were carrying wasn’t one of these critics’ darling literary affairs?”

“I doubt it,” I said.

“Well, my name’s Tom,” said the young fellow, and he held out his hand. I gave him mine, which was only a little numb from this Paul guy’s big mitt squeezing all the life out of my arm.

“Hi, Tom,” I said. It seemed like he was all set to perform one of those long and lingering handshakes, possibly combined with a contest to see who could squeeze the other’s hand the hardest, so I quickly pulled mine away again. “Now if you could just direct me to the men’s room —” 


“That’s the only reason he come in here,” said the big guy, Paul. He was filling his big corncob pipe from a leather pouch that I think he had pulled out of his pants pocket, but it was so big I wasn’t sure how he could have stuffed it into one of his pockets, even though they were pretty big dungaree pockets. But then I also didn’t care.

“So, Porter,” said Tom. “This true, that you only came in just to use the men’s room?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” I said.

“May I ask why you didn’t just use the men’s room upstairs?”

“Well, I was going to,” I said, “but then those guys accosted me —”

“The bore-asses?”

“Um,” I said.

“It was Melville, Cooper, Hawthorne, Emerson,” said Paul, striking a wooden match on the sole of his boot, and then putting the light to his pipe. “Them guys.”

“Damn those fellows,” said Tom.

“That’s what I said,” said Paul, drawing on that big pipe of his.

“Damn them straight to their bore-ass hell,” said Tom.

“Exactly what I said,” said Paul. He waved the match out and then tossed it to the floor. “More or less, anyways.”

“They keep this kind of shit up they’re going to lose their men’s room privileges entirely,” said Tom.

“Serve ‘em right,” said Paul, puffing in a contented-looking way on his pipe.

While all this was going on the jazz combo played, loudly, and the people packing this barroom shouted and laughed. No one cared about me and my little problems. Except for this Tom kid, and, maybe, this Paul guy.

“Tell me something,” said Tom, to me. “Why didn’t you just shove ‘em aside? These bore-asses.”

“Well, they had me surrounded,” I said. “And then two of them started fighting.”

“Which ones?”

“I think it was the one called Emerson and that other one called Fenmore I think.”

Fenimore,” said Tom.

“Right,” I said. “Fenimore.”

“So it got ugly, huh?”

“Yes,” I said. “I just wanted to get out of there, and, anyway, there were long lines for all the urinals.”

“And for the stalls, too?”
“Yes,” I said. “It was very crowded. And it smelled really bad.”

“So you just beat a retreat.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I’m not,” I said.

“In a case like that no one’s going to call you a coward.”

“Well,” I said.

“You did what you thought best.”

“Yeah, sure,” I said, “but —”

“No one’s pointing the finger,” he said.

“Great,” I said.

“I wouldn’t say it’s great,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. “But, listen —”

“It’s a shame it’s gotta be this way. Men’s rooms. Bore-asses. Toilet traitors. The whole damn thing’s a shame.”

“Uh,” I said.

“When I was a young boy it was so much simpler. I would just go off into the weeds.”

“Same with me,” said Paul. “Just go off into the trees. Nothing like it.”

“No lines,” said Tom. “No smells.”

“Just the clean fresh air,” said Paul.

“The sky above, the earth below,” said Tom.

“Just you and Mother Nature,” said Paul, except because of his accent it sounded more like “Mudder Nature”.

Tom took a little puff on his pipe.

“No bore-asses,” he said, looking at me.

“Not usually,” said Paul.

“So,” I said, “about this men’s room —”

“Oh, right, you do look like you gotta go,” said Tom.

“I do,” I said.

“I hope you’re going to stay for a drink.”

“I, um,” I said.

“’Course there’s no obligation. Not if you’re one of us.”

“Well, anyway —” I said.

“Oh, I guess you’re in a hurry.”

“I really am,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “Just head back that-away,” he gestured with the stem of his corncob pipe over his left shoulder. “Go past the bandstand and the end of the bar. You’ll see a cigarette machine. Right on the other side of it is a door.”

“Okay,” I said.

“But that’s not the men’s room,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. “I guess that’s the office, or —”

“No, it’s not the office. Does it matter?”

“No, not at all,” I said.

“It’s the green room, where the musicians can relax between sets.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Have a drink and a smoke. Maybe even blow some reefer. It’s their business. They’re artists.” 

“Sure,” I said.

“So don’t go in that door.”

“I won’t,” I said.

“Don’t go in there,” he said. “Keep going just a little bit and you’ll come to a corridor going off to the left.”

“The left,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “But you don’t really have to remember that because it only goes to the left.”

“Okay,” I said. “So just go left down this corridor? Thanks.”

“Hold on, I’m not finished.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“A the end of this short corridor there’s a wall, but the corridor splits off in two directions, right and left again.”


“Go left. Again.”

“Right,” I said.


“Right. Go left,” I said.

“At the end of this left hallway you’ll find two doors facing each other.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Take the door on the left. That’s the men’s room.”

“Okay,” I said. “The one on the left.”

“You got all that?”

“I think so,” I said.

“Basically you’re going to keep bearing left.”

“Right,” I said.

“Left,” he said.

“Right,” I said again. “Left.”

“I can say it all again if you’re not sure.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure,” I said. “But if I get mixed up there must be a sign on the door, right?”

“Well, there should be,” he said.

“There should be?”

“Should be and used to be. Except somebody stole it.”

“Someone stole the men’s room sign?”

“Stole it right off the door. The ladies’ room sign, too.”

“Oh,” I said.

I didn’t care. My bladder was about to burst.

“The men’s room sign showed a pointing dog.” he said. “And instead of saying ‘Men’ or ‘Gentlemen’, it said ‘Pointers’. Get it?”

“I get it,” I said.

“Ladies’ room had one with a sitting dog, and it says —”

“Setters,” I said.

“You’ve seen these signs before.”

“Yes,” I said.

He put the stem of his pipe to his lips and sucked on it, but apparently it had gone out. He looked into the bowl, then turned the pipe over and tapped it out on the forefinger of his other hand, letting the ashes fall to the sawdust below. Then he looked at me.

“I know what you’re thinking.” 

“You do?”

“You’re thinking, who would do such a thing? Steal a silly sign like that. Two silly signs.”

“I don’t care,” I said.

“You don’t care.”

“He don’t care,” said that big Paul guy.

This Tom kid just stared at me.

“Okay," he said. "So you don’t care. Fine. But listen. And listen good. There are people in here who might tell you I stole those signs. But I didn’t. My days of such mischievous, boyish pranks are behind me. You got that?”

“Yes,” I said. “But look, I really, really have to go.”

“No one’s stopping you. Go.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Maybe after you go we can have a drink. You can tell me your story. You probably already know mine of course.”

“Um,” I said.

“Maybe he ain’t well read,” said Paul.

“Look,” I said, “I’m sorry, but —”

“Okay, go. Go,” said this Tom kid.

I started to go.

“But just remember.” He pointed the stem of his pipe at my nose. “I didn’t take those signs.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Maybe Huckleberry stole them. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. I’m not saying he did and I’m not saying he didn’t. But I am not responsible for his actions. Are we clear on that?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “Tell you what, after you finish your business let me buy you a drink.”

“All right,” I said. “Maybe.”

“Maybe, huh?” 

“Listen,” I said. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I really need to go to the bathroom. I can’t think about getting a drink afterwards now. All I can think about is getting to the bathroom before I have an accident.”

“I think you’re serious,” said this Tom kid.

“He serious,” said that big Paul guy. “He dead serious.”

“I think he is,” said Tom. “Okay, buddy. ‘Porter’,” he said to me. “Go. Go do your business.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I will.”

“You got those directions?”

“I think so,” I said.

“You better hurry then.”

Without another word I set off across the room, limping —because, yes, my leg still hurt — making my way through some tables all filled with drinking and laughing people, and up to the bandstand, which had a bunch of other people standing near it, listening to the music, and shouting encouragement and their appreciation to the musicians, and I was just about to go past the bandstand and the end of the crowded bar when someone grabbed my right arm, the same arm that that big guy Paul had just been hanging onto.

“Hey, pal, where you going?”

I turned.

It was Ben.

My friend.

Big Ben Blagwell.

(Continued here, and while strength endures.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page for what may well be a  current listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Now also appearing in the Collingswood Patch™: “South Jersey’s last bastion of literacy.”)


Unknown said...

Porter's maintained much longer than I could. Perhaps he should just use an empty beer mug.

Dan Leo said...

I think he might be going for some kind of world record here.