Saturday, June 29, 2013

An Arnold Schnabel Potpourri, Part 3

Your humble amanuensis was the victim this past week of a dual wisdom-tooth extraction, and subsequently spent several days in a drugged fog. Therefore we regret to report that there will be no new chapter this weekend of Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling memoir Railroad Train to Heaven™; however, as a sop to his millions of clamoring fans we present the third in our occasional series of short selections from the master’s work. We hope that this will help to prevent or at least lessen any deep sense of loss in our regular readers, and we promise that Arnold will be back next Friday night with a spanking brand new chapter for your edification.  

I walked down the windy dark empty street to Congress and turned right, and down the block and a half to the VFW. It’s just a plain long building, dull and brown, it’s windows made out of filmy glass bricks like ice cubes. I opened the door and went in. The first thing I heard was Steve’s distinctive tenor, singing along to a song on the jukebox called “Be My Baby”. And there he was in the middle of the crowded bar, waving a beer mug in time to the music.

Amazingly, it didn’t look like anyone wanted to beat him up.


…I slowly recognized her as a pretty but somewhat somber face I had seen around town in past summers, each year a little taller and a lot more — what’s the word? Imperious? Or even like the way the Blessed Mother looks in some old paintings, beautiful and calm but somehow somewhat bored or even miffed about something.

By the way I just want to interpolate that if despite my present lamentable state of willy-nilly agnosticism there really is a Blessed Virgin I mean no disrespect by the above sentence or, now that I look at it again, should I say sentence fragment.


I felt like a ghost wandering through a carnival swarming with mad midgets.


Universes collapsed, stars exploded and disappeared, new galaxies burst into creation, gods and entire races lived and died as she went into her little kitchenette and took a bottle of Gordon’s gin and poured healthy drams into two of the Flintstones glasses that my aunts had supplied the apartment with. She came up to me and handed me one of the drinks.


I turned and walked out, closing the door behind me. I walked gingerly over to the bathroom, went in, closed the door, unzipped, and splashed cold water from the tap onto the offending portion of myself.


Their words passed into my ears and out again, leaving only the vaguest impressions on my brain.


Miss Rathbone sat down and poured Steve a glass of ice water.

He thanked her, lifted the glass and drank it all, his Adam’s apple palpitating like a small creature trapped in his throat.


I could never describe the complex of emotions, hidden but obvious, conversation, superficial but fraught with meaning, all of it somehow managing to be deeply boring but completely unmemorable, which ensued in the next three minutes of chatter among the old women and Miss Evans.


I said nothing. What could I say? It seems to me that for years I talked to people, and they talked to me, primarily in a sort of code composed almost entirely of clichés, a code whose purpose was not the transmission of meaning but the lack of meaning.


People were starting to come back from the beach, blistered-red, sweating and weary, looking as if they had been through a battle. Even the little children hobbled and staggered as though on a death march, or else were carried by their sandal-dragging parents or brave older siblings.


Real life always comes back to bring us down to planet earth even in the midst of our most exalted philosophizing, and so it was that I realized that I had to urinate.


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…


Next thing I knew we were in a café drinking peppermint schnapps, and pretty soon after that I was being frog-marched into a brothel, gibbering with fright as if I were being dragged to the gibbet. And as terrified as I was going in I was even more terrified an hour later when I shuffled out, expecting a lightning bolt to strike me down at any moment and cast my wretched unshriven soul screaming hellward.

It occurred to me that I was happy.

How odd.


(Please tune in next week when we will bring you a brand new and exciting chapter of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven© in its usual time-slot.)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 114

"it's always friends who have stories"

by manfred skyline 

illustrated by roy dismas and eddie el greco

a rhoda penmarq™ production

lullaby lewinsky was a world class daydreamer.

he had spent most of his life daydreaming, including his years growing up in the bronx, the almost five years he spent "in the war"and after it at camp wade hampton in south carolina, and the years he had spent since, hanging around broadway and times square and the race tracks.

he even found himself daydreaming during races he had bet heavily on (heavily for him), and was hanging on the rail himself to watch. he would often have to check the board to see who had won, having been too absorbed in his reveries to notice when the horses crossed the finish line.

as a child he had sometimes described the contents of his daydreams to his grandmother, the only person who listened to him, or was at least polite or bored or immobile enough to pretend to listen to him.

when he had finished, or trailed off with his recital, his grandmother would usually ask the same question.

"and then what?"

he had never had much of an answer.

(click here for the entire thrilling chapter.)

Friday, June 21, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 352: at ease

Let us return to the Little Caesar Room, where everything is in black-and-white and all is as silent and still as a wax museum, except that is for our narrator Arnold Schnabel, his friend Josh, and an unannounced newcomer known as “H.G.”…

(Please click here to gain access to our preceding chapter; newcomers (or old hands looking for a brush-up) may go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 72-volume memoir.)

“It is now obvious that the one truly epic work of literature our country has produced is Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling
chef-d'œuvre. No offense to Herman Melville, but Railroad Train to Heaven makes Moby-Dick look like a comic book.” — Harold Bloom, in Grit.

The holy ghost. 

I had always wondered what he looked like in person.

“So, Arnie,” said Josh, in a more normal voice, “how about those beers, pal?”

“Oh, right, the beers,” I said.

I turned and walked, hobbling and weaving only slightly, the few feet to the beer taps. I was not too much the worse for wear after my unfortunate attempt at vaulting the bar. I had bruised my right elbow and my left forearm in the fall, but my head only ached mildly, and my bad knee was only a few degrees more painful than before. I was still holding the two empty beer mugs in one hand. I found the Rheingold tap and began to fill the mugs, holding both of them in one hand as I had seen a thousand bartenders do.

I heard a pop across the room. I looked up and I saw that the little man – I supposed I should think of him as “H.G.”, it seemed more comforting than “the holy ghost”, or, even the Holy Ghost, with capital letters beginning the adjective and the noun, yes, H.G. was better – I saw that he had successfully drawn the cork out of the brandy bottle with his pocketknife corkscrew. He stood the bottle on the table, then carefully unimpaled the cork and placed it on the table top. He folded up his corkscrew and put the knife away. Then he picked the cork up and held it under his nose, with a very serious expression on his face. Not that I had seen any other kind of expression on his face in the few minutes that I had been aware of his corporeal existence.

“Hey, Arnie,” said Josh. “You’re wasting beer, man.”

This was true, I was letting the beer foam up out of the mugs and down the drain where it couldn’t do anyone any good.

“Sorry,” I said.

I turned off the tap. Josh had lit another cigarette and put it in his lips. He came over behind me carrying in one hand two snifters upside down by their stems, a single snifter in his other hand. I felt his elbow in my side and he whispered rather loudly in my ear.

“Don’t worry, pal. He looks a little forbidding but he’s not so bad. A little old and cranky maybe, but who wouldn’t be after being one third of the Holy Trinity for an eternity but the only one that nobody prays to or worships.”

“I heard that,” the little man called from across the barroom.

“Oh, shit,” said Josh, in what he probably meant to be a low whisper, but which was still only slightly less loud than a normal speaking voice. “But, seriously, Arnie, no sweat, I can handle him.”

“I could hear that last bit too,” called the little guy. “I may be old but I’m not completely deaf you know. Not yet anyway I’m not.”

“Sorry, H.G.,” called Josh. “Just trying to put Arnold here at his ease.”

“Worst thing a human being can be is at his ease,” called H.G. 
They were both almost yelling across the barroom, like two actors on opposite sides of a stage, carrying along a dialogue and making sure the people in the really cheap seats could hear them.

“That’s a little extreme, H.G.,” yelled Josh, and he gave me another little jab in the side with his elbow.

“Extreme?” yelled the little guy. “Extreme?”

“Yeah,” yelled Josh. “Everybody’s got to relax sometime.”

“Relax?” yelled the little guy. “Let me tell you something, pal. Right now at this very moment a nice American couple are on a safari in Africa. They’re relaxing, sitting around the campfire, smoking, drinking whiskey, feeling good, at ease — and any minute they’re going to be attacked by a ravenous tiger. Or a rhino. Or a rampaging elephant. Or a tribe of Mau-Maus, bent on torture, rape, and murder. That’s what relaxing will get you. That’s what being at ease will do for you. How about those snifters.”

“Right, the snifters,” said Josh. “Coming right up. Let’s go, Arnie.”

He gave me a wink and then led the way down to the end of the bar, and I followed him with the two mugs of beer.

Josh lifted up the hinged wooden flap at the end of the bar, using the hand that held only one snifter. He went through and I went after him, and the both of us walked (or in my case, limped) across that grey frozen barroom and over to the booth where H.G. sat.

H.G. had hung his cane on a hook on a post that stood between the back of his seat and the adjoining booth, but he’d kept his derby on. (I’m anticipating here, which I rarely do, but just in case I forget to mention it in the future, I’ll mention now that much later Josh told me that H.G. was sensitive about his baldness and so he rarely removed his derby. Now that I have mentioned it, I wonder why I bothered. Why shouldn’t the holy ghost be vain? Everyone else in the universe is, why should he be any different?)

Josh and I slid into the booth on the opposite side of H.G., first Josh, then me, which meant I was sitting directly across from the little guy. I found this disconcerting, but at least I didn’t have to worry about our shoes awkwardly touching under the table, his legs were far too short for that.

I put one beer mug in front of Josh without spilling any, kept the other one in front of me.

“Them snifters clean?” said H.G.

Those snifters,” said Josh.

“Right,” said H.G. “They clean?”

“It’s these snifters,” said Josh. “Not them snifters.”

“First you said those, now it’s these,” said H.G. “Make up your mind.”

“Well, anyway,” said Josh. “Yes, they’re clean. Now let’s try this Napoleon brandy stuff.”

He put one snifter in front of H.G., one in front of me, and kept one in front of himself.

Without further badinage H.G. lifted the bottle in both his hands, he had small hands almost like a child’s, and he politely poured a healthy shot in my glass, four fingers I would say, then he did the same for Josh, and then finally for himself.

“Now wait a minute,” said H.G., putting down the bottle and looking at Josh, who had picked his glass up as soon as H.G. had poured the four fingers into it. “This is fifty-year-old Napoleon brandy. You don’t just go and swill this kind of liquor down. Take your time. Hold it under your nose and swish it around and sniff it.”

“What nonsense,” said Josh. “Even I know that spirits are for drinking, not sniffing.”

“You only get half the experience if you don’t bother to smell it first,” said H.G. “You’re also supposed to hold it up to the light and move the snifter back and forth, like this –” he picked up his snifter and demonstrated the procedure he had just described. “What you’re looking for is color, clarity or lack of, and you’re also looking for these little trails inside the glass. You call them legs.”

“Legs,” said Josh.

“Legs,” said the little man. “These little like streams.”

Josh looked at me, but I tried to keep a neutral expression on my face.

“See what I mean?” said H.G.

He was holding the snifter up to the light, tilting it first one way, the another.

“You see them legs?”

“Those legs,” said Josh.

H.G. looked at me.

“You see ‘em, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I said. I figured I was safe with a simple affirmative answer, although to tell the truth I was on Josh’s side of this issue.

“Pretty good legs,” said the little man. “Nice golden brown ripe long legs. Reminds me of a woman I once knew in Babylon, many, many moons ago. Legs as long as the great Silk Road, but leading at journey’s end to riches more splendid than those of all the palaces of all the moguls and all the khans combined.”

“Okay, tell you what,” said Josh. “Can’t we just drink the stuff without wasting all this time sniffing and looking at it?”

“It’s all part of the sensory Gestalt,” said H.G., and he brought the snifter down and ran it back and forth below his now narrowed and twitching nostrils.

“And what if you die of a heart attack while you’re performing this pretentious dumb-show?” said Josh.

“I’m not even going to dignify that remark with any kind of a rejoinder,” said H.G.

I don’t know what came over me, but without thinking about it I lifted up my snifter and took a drink. I didn’t drink the whole thing by any means – as I said it was a pretty big pour – but I guess I drank about a fourth of it.

It was pretty good, a little hot going down the throat, but I liked it better than that B&B stuff.

I lifted my mug and washed the brandy down with a good gulp of Rheingold.

“What are you doing?” said H.G., staring at me as if I were urinating on the front steps of a Catholic church.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“What’s your name? Harold? Harry?”

“Arnold,” I said. “Arnold Schna–”

“Arnold. Well listen to me, ‘Arnold’. That is not how you drink a good Napoleon brandy,” he said. “Gulping it down like it’s a Schenley’s or a Carstairs. You got to take just a small sip, and swirl it around in your mouth, and breathe air in. All that before you even think about swallowing.”

“I didn’t know,” I said.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

“Y’know, this stuff is pretty good,” said Josh, and he laid his snifter down on the table. He had drunk half of it.

“You two are incorrigible,” said the little guy. “Like dealing with a couple of children.” 

But then I guess he got bored too, because he brought his glass to his lips and took a good gulp without making any bones about it.

For a moment no one spoke. Which was all right with me. Come to think of it, it’s just about always all right with me if no one speaks. 
I waited.

There was an ashtray on the table, and Josh slid it over to in front of him and tapped his cigarette ash into it. It was another semi-opaque glass ashtray with the words Property of The Little Caesar Room painted on it in gold letters.

Meanwhile H.G. had been smelling his brandy again, or at least pretending to smell it. Then he tossed off another slug of it, and put the glass down. It was almost empty but not quite.

I raised my mug and took a drink of the Rheingold.

“They call me H.G. by the way,” said H.G.

My mouth was full of beer, so I quickly swallowed it.

“Yes,” I said, clearing my throat. “Josh told me.”

“So you know who I am.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Good. That saves time. Although since ‘Josh’ as you call him has completely stopped the flow of the mighty river of time I suppose it doesn’t matter whether we save it or not.”

I had nothing coherent to say to this, so instead I mumbled, “Um.”

’Um’? What’s that? Some oriental chant? You don’t actually believe in that balderdash, do you?”

“Um, no,” I said. “I just said um because I um –”

“Hey, give the poor guy a break, H.G.,” said Josh. “He’s only human.”

Thank you, I thought.

You’re welcome, Josh thought back.

I wondered if H.G. could hear my thoughts as well, and Josh’s thought-replies to my thoughts. If so he gave no indication, but maybe he did and just didn’t care.

He reached into his suit jacket, but this time instead of taking out his glasses or a gun he brought out a hard leather cigar case. He clicked it open, and there were four or five big cigars in it. He held the case out to me.

“Cigar, Mr. Schnitzel?”

I felt Josh’s knee touch mine, and I decided on the spot not to correct H.G.’s mistake. After all, out of billions of human beings, why should he remember my name?

“Uh, no, thank you, sir,” I said. “You see, I’ve decided to give up smoking, and even though it was cigarettes that I smoked, not cigars, still –”

“Hey,” said the little man.

“Yes?” I said.

“I asked you if you wanted a cigar, not for your life story.” He selected a cigar, clicked the case shut, and put it away. “A simple no thank you would more than suffice.”

“No thank you,” I said.

“So you said, along with a lot of other verbiage that was about to put me to sleep.” He took out his wooden-handled pocket knife again, opened the blade, which must have been razor-sharp, and cut the end off the cigar without even having to hold it on the table. “Your loss, though. These are genuine Cubans. You can’t even get these things legally where you come from.”

“That’s true,” I said,  although it occurred to me that since we were in the year 1957 the Cuban Revolution had not yet occurred, and therefore Cuban cigars were still legal in this country, but, again, I let it go.
He flicked the stub away, but he left the ribbon on the cigar. He put the cigar in his mouth, folded up his pocket knife and put it away. Then he looked at me.

“I know it’s true,” he said. “That’s why I said it.”

He took out a lighter from some other pocket. The funny thing was, it looked almost exactly like Josh’s black enamel and gold Ronson, except H.G.’s was a butane. It had his initials on it, too, just as Josh’s lighter was engraved with the letters “J.C.” Except H.G.’s lighter was engraved with the letters “H.G.”.

He looked at Josh now.

“What is it with these humans that they feel they have to say something when they’ve got nothing to say.”

“It’s just a form of politeness,” said Josh, who, I noticed, had already finished his own Napoleon brandy, although he hadn’t touched his beer. “Humans get nervous when they say something to another human and the other human just stares at them.”

“What a boring race,” said H.G.

“Don’t blame me,” said Josh.

“I know it wasn’t your fault.”

He clicked his lighter, and began to light his cigar, rotating the cigar, taking little puffs.

Finally he got it lit, and he blew out a great cloud of smoke more or less in my direction. I have to admit, I had to admit, it smelled good.

“It’s up to me?” he said. “Never would have happened. No Adam, no Eve. No human race.”

“Yes,” said Josh, and he reached across the table for the brandy bottle; as he did so I noticed that not only was his snifter empty, but he had finished his beer, too – ”but just think how boring things would have been then, H.G.”

“Boring?” said H.G. “Peaceful you mean.”

Josh gave me another little nudge with his knee, and then, with a very intent expression on his face, he poured himself some more brandy.

“Goddam race of lunatics,” said H.G. He looked at me. “Nothing against you personally, Mr. Schausser.”

He exhaled another great cloud of smoke.

I could see the point of what he was saying, in fact I didn’t disagree with him, but, on the other hand, if it weren’t for the human race he wouldn’t be smoking that Cuban cigar he seemed to be enjoying so much.

And he wouldn’t have that fifty-year-old Napoleon brandy that he now took a sip of.

I took another drink of the brandy from my own snifter. Then I washed it down with some Rheingold  beer.
It wasn’t as if the human race hadn’t contributed anything at all worthwhile to the universe.

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

(Kindly 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© (all contents vetted and approved by the new Official Censor of the Vatican, Msgr. James “Jimmy” Murray, S.J., Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat). Now appearing also in the Collingswood Patch™: “South Jersey’s brave voice of literacy in a post-literate age.”)

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 113

“The Lawn’s Lament”

by Horace P. Sternwall

illustrations by danny delacroix and rhoda penmarq

edited by Dan Leo*

*Associate Professor of Romance Literature, Assistant Life Coach, Olney Community College; editor of Mrs. Biddle’s Bequest and Four Other Novels of Intrigue by Horace P. Sternwall, with an Afterword by Oscar Levant; Olney Community College Press. Made possible in part by a generous grant from Bob’s Bowery Bar on the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Serving fine beers and cocktails from 7am to 4am daily. Featuring Bob’s Bowery Bar’s World Famous Nickel Hot Dogs, with Mom’s Sauerkraut. ‘I’ve lived off Bob’s nickel hot dogs for years now.' – Howard Paul Studebaker, poet, author of Aubades of the Old West and Cowboy Villanelles.”

“Ha, ha, well said, my dear Sniffy,” said Frank X, and without further ado he unfolded the cocktail napkin and held it close to his bloodshot and puffy eyes (for he was very nearsighted; he had drunkenly broken his last pair of eyeglasses five years ago and had neglected ever since to buy a new pair), and recited, in a singsong, high and pompous voice the following poem:

Please don’t mow me, said the lawn.
I have feelings, too, you know.
But no one cares about me, they just
walk on me,
and let their dogs poop on me,
what do they care for my feelings,
my hopes and aspirations,
because, yes, lawns have feelings too,
and hopes and dreams,
but no one cares,
and when I grow too high
that fat human being
gets out his mower 
and brutally mows me down,
the bastard.

Please don’t do that.
Don’t mow us.
Let us grow, free,
waving our little grass fingers
gently in the air
until winter comes
and we die.

But with luck we will be reborn next spring.

And that human being,
that fat sweating slob
who so liked to brutally mow me,
perhaps he will be dead by then,
of a massive heart attack.

I can only hope.

(Click here to read the entire sordid episode.)

tales of the hotel st crispian: chapter 112

"live in memory forever"

by horace p sternwall 

illustrated by roy dismas and eddie el greco

a rhoda penmarq™ joint

nolan noticed the guy sitting at the bar as soon as he entered the prince hal room.

it was not exactly that he "didn't like his looks". more like he excited his curiosity a little bit.

nolan could not quite place him. and there were not too many people nolan could not place.

(Click here to read the entire mysterious chapter.)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 351: “H.G.”

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his godly companion “Josh”, here in the Tussaudian stillness of the black-and-white world of the Little Caesar Room…

(Kindly go here to read our previous thrilling episode; advanced students of mental disorder may click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 53-volume autobiography.)

“Arnold Schnabel has with some justice been compared to ‘outsider’ artists such as Henry Darger or Adolf Wölfli, but to my way of thinking it is Arnold Schnabel who is on the inside, and all we need do to join him there is to enter into his endlessly astounding magnum opus.” — Harold Bloom, on
30 Minute Meals with Rachael Ray.

“Feel better now?” he said, and he was smiling.

“Yes,” I said. “Thank you.”

And it was true, the pain in my head had been replaced by what felt like a plum-sized hole in my cranium, but when I touched the spot with my free hand I felt only a small slight rubbery bump.

I tried to disengage my hand from Josh’s, but he seemed reluctant to let it go, and of course he was infinitely stronger than I, as I suppose he was stronger than everyone else in the universe, with the possible exception of the other two persons of the Trinity.

“Let me just feed you some more of the old cosmic energy, Arnie. You’ll feel good as new in another minute.”

“No, really, I’m fine, Josh,” I said, and in fact I could now feel this energy surging a bit too strongly, and hotter, as if it were about to cause my brains to bubble out of the top of my skull like a pot of beans that’s been left on the stove too long. The reader must remember that Josh was still quite under the influence of drink, and so was probably not in complete command of his usual miraculous skills.

“You’re sure?” he said. “’Cause you still look a little, I don’t know –”

“Seriously, Josh, you can let go of my hand now,” I said, and I could swear I now felt drops of hot blood oozing out into the porches of my inner ears.

“Okay, pal,” he said, and he finally disengaged my hand, cutting off the bright hot current in mid-stream, and leaving my hand just a little numb, but I felt the droplets of blood crawling back into the recesses of my inner ears, and my head hadn’t exploded, so no harm done. I was however, and for the thirty-seventh time that day, as drenched as if I had been dipped into a vat of sweat.

“So,” he said, looking at the shelves of liquor, “one more for the road?”

I knew we shouldn’t, but I was suddenly as thirsty as a man who’d just come in from jogging a few miles in the middle of the Sahara desert at midday.

“Well,” I said, “just one more, then we really should go I think.”

“Hey, what about this stuff?” he said, and he picked up a bottle of Seagram’s Seven.

“It’s okay, Josh,” I said. “But –”

“Is it one of those private stock fine malt whiskies?”

“No,” I said. “But –”

“Where d’ya think they keep the good stuff?” he said.

“Josh,” I said. “Remember I said we should stick to beer?”

“But,” he said.

I was getting tired of repeating myself with him. If it was truly his intention to become a normal human being he was definitely picking up some very human traits.

“No buts,” I said. “One more mug of Rheingold apiece, and that’s it.”

“But,” he said.

“No,” I said.

He stood there, looking at me. I guess he was wondering if he should pull rank or not. And, really, what could I do if he did? He looked at the bottle of Seagram’s, which he was still holding in his hand.

“I really liked that private stock stuff that Henry guy had upstairs,” he said.

“Josh,” I said.

“What’s this about private stock stuff?” said a voice I had never heard before. Josh and I had been facing each other, standing there behind the bar, and I turned and saw a little man walking in our direction from the hallway entrance that Josh and I had just come through a month or so ago.

“Oh, hello,” said Josh.

“You fellows look like you’ve been having a little party,” said the man, coming closer. He wore a derby and a dark grey three-piece suit, and he walked with a cane, although I don’t think he needed the cane, I mean he wasn’t crippled. He looked to be about fifty, he was about five-foot-four, and he had a bit of a pot belly.

“Just a couple of drinks is all,” said Josh.

“What’d you do, anyway, stop time?” said the little man.

He had reached the bar now, and he was looking at Bubbles and Blondie, both of them frozen with one arm curved as if gracefully in the air.

“Yeah, stopped time,” said Josh. “Arnold here thought we needed a little break.”

“A little break from the festivities,” said the man. He was still looking back and forth from Blondie to Bubbles, looking at their bodies that is.

“Sort of,” said Josh. “A quiet moment. A drink. A chat.”

“Well,” said the little man. “If you fellows are having one I suppose I will. That is if I’m not intruding.”

“No, not at all,” said Josh. “What would you like? We were just wondering where they would keep the really good stuff here.”

“I believe it’s normally kept on the top shelf,” said the man.

“But,” I said.

“I see a bottle of Napoleon brandy up there if I’m not mistaken,” said the fellow.

“Napoleon brandy?” said Josh. “Is that good?”

“It can be,” said the little guy. “Hand it down.”

Josh reached up, brought down this brandy bottle and handed it down to the little man. The bottle was very dusty and its top was sealed with black wax.

The man looked at the label, then put the bottle down on the counter. Hooking his cane over his forearm, he reached inside his suit-jacket and brought out a pair of wire-rimmed pince-nez eyeglasses and put them on his nose. Then he picked up the bottle again, blew some of the dust off it, and examined the writing on the label.

“Hey, Josh,” I said. “Maybe we really should just stick to beer, you know?”

“Maybe,” he said, and then, speaking to the little man, he said, “So, what do you think? Good stuff?”

“It’s probably all right,” he said. He put the bottle back on the bar top, then took off his glasses and put them away again. “At least it hasn’t been opened. We’re going to need a corkscrew.”

“Corkscrew, corkscrew,” said Josh. “Arnie, help me find a corkscrew.”

“But,” I said.

“Oh, wait, never mind,” said the little man. “I forgot.” He reached into his trousers pocket and brought out a handsome curved wooden-handled pocket knife. He pulled a corkscrew out from the handle. “See? Be prepared, that’s my motto.”

“I have to get me one of those,” said Josh.

The little man turned and looked around the room.

“There’s an empty booth over there,” he said. “Bring three glasses. Snifters if they have them. Better make sure they’re clean.”

“Three snifters, coming up,” said Josh. “By the way, Arnie and I were going to have a beer, do you want one?”

“What kind of beer?”

“Rheingold,” said Josh.

“Oh. Rheingold,” said the man. “None for me, thanks.”

The little man took up the bottle, turned and started walking toward an empty booth across the barroom.

“Josh,” I said, in a low voice. “We were just going to have one beer, remember?”

“Well, we can have a beer too,” he said.

I gave up.

“Okay,” I said. “But really, we should be going soon.”

“Sure,” he said. “Look, you draw us a couple more Rheingolds, Arnie, and I’ll grab the snifters.”

“Right,” I said.

He leaned in close to me. His breath smelled like geraniums on a fresh summer day, even after all he had drunk, and all the cigarettes he had smoked, and after throwing up.

“You’re probably wondering who that guy is,” he said, in a slightly loud whisper.

“Well, I was, sort of,” I said.

“You started to ask me about him earlier.”

“I did?”


The little man had sat down at the booth, and I could see him starting to peel the wax off the mouth of the bottle, using the blade of his pocket knife.

“Oh, look, here’s some snifters,” said Josh.

There was a row of them upside down on a towel on a shelf. He picked one up and held it up to the light, the white light.

"This one looks clean," he said.

He put it down, and then glanced over at me.

"Hey, how about those beers, Arnold?" he said.

“Oh, right,” I said.

I picked up the two mugs we had emptied.

“Uh-oh,” said Josh.

“What?” I said.

He was holding up two more snifters to the light.

“Lipstick on this one,” he said.

He put down one of the snifters, the one without lipstick. He had a handkerchief in the breast pocket of his suit jacket, I probably never mentioned it before. The handkerchief that is. He took it out and began wiping the lipstick off the snifter.

He glanced over at me again.

“Go ahead, Arnie,” he said. “Pour us two cold ones.”

“Right,” I said.

I started to turn and head for the beer taps.

“We call him H.G.,” he said.

“Pardon me?” I said. I stopped and turned again.

“The little guy.” He blew into the snifter, gave it another wipe with his handkerchief. It looked like silk, and I could see it was monogrammed, with the initials J.C. “We call him H.G.”

“H.G.?” I said. “You mean H.G. Wells?”

There was another famous author I wasn’t very familiar with, although I had a vague memory of reading The Invisible Man when I was in the army.

“No, not that H.G.,” said Josh. He held the snifter up to the light again.

Wait, come to think of it, I think I had only read the Classics Illustrated version. Anyway, I had definitely seen the movie, with Claude Rains.

I looked over at the little man in the booth. He was digging his corkscrew into the bottle now, with a determined expression on his face.

I looked back at Josh. He was refolding his handkerchief. 

“This is a different H.G.,” he said. “You would know him by his more popular name though.”

“What’s that?” I said.

He tucked the handkerchief back into his breast pocket.

“The holy ghost,” he said.

(Continued here, despite the dictates of so-called common sense.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what might possibly be an up-to-date listing of links to all other pixeliticially available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Now published concurrently in the Collingswood Patch™: “New Jersey’s last lone keening voice in the wilderness.”)

Thanks to birthday girl Jackie Jones for: