Saturday, August 3, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 357: my world

Let’s rejoin our intrepid hero Arnold Schnabel and his deific friend Josh as they slowly walk down a dark subterranean hallway towards a dim pale smudge of light in the distance…

(Kindly click here to read our previous chapter; if you’re looking for some new way to pass your idle hours for the next several decades you may want to go here to return to the almost-forgotten beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 79-volume memoir.)

“Well, I’m all set for my yearly vacation in Cape May. I’ve got a suitcase all loaded up with about twenty fat volumes of
Railroad Train to Heaven, and what the hell else do I need?” — Harold Bloom, in Holiday.

“So,” said Josh, a floating voice in the darkness by my side, “here’s the plan. We go through that bar out there, and – I know, I know, this time we don’t stop for a drink – and then we head right upstairs to the other bar, what’s it called, the Parnassus –”

“I think it’s called the Valhalla, actually,” I said.

“Right, we head right up to the Valhalla, with no more nonsense this time, and –”

“Wait a minute. Josh?” I said.

I put my right hand out, felt what must have been Josh’s arm, and he stopped, and I stopped.

His face was just barely visible in the almost complete darkness, and I had the impression that this vague image was not the result of that tiny smudge of pale light down the hall, but of some sort of inner light coming from within Josh, and, after all, when you consider who and what he was, this wasn’t surprising. And as my vision adjusted I could definitely make out the blue of his eyes – only a slightly darker blue in here than the bright clear blue they normally were – looking into my eyes, or at least appearing to look into mine, as I have no idea if my eyes were visible to Josh, but then again, considering who he was, they probably were visible to him, even if mine didn’t have that glow from within.

“What’s up, buddy?” he said. I saw by the pulsing of a red spot of light that he was taking a drag of his cigarette, and once again the burning end of it cast a pale pinkness over his features as he inhaled.

“Maybe we should work out a different plan,” I said.

“Really? Why?”

“Because there are all those people out there,” I said. “That guy Huckleberry for instance. And that French guy, whatsisname.”

“The French guy –”

“You know the one, little French guy, thought we were doing something, uh, weird?”

“Oh, right,” said Josh. “C. Auguste Dupin.”

“Right,” I said. “He’s out there, too.”

“Yeah, so?”

“I’m afraid if we go out there again then one or both of them will accost us. Again.”

“Oh, I can handle those guys.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But I’m also afraid that something else will happen.”

“Something like what?”

“Something like what’s been happening all night. Someone else will accost us. Some other fictional character. Like those guys in the bathroom.”

Billy and Ishmael.”

“Yes,” I said. “And the guy who preferred not to come out of the toilet stall.”

“Bart,” said Josh.

“Yes,” I said. “He might have preferred to come out by now. That whole crew might accost us.”

“Yes,” said Josh, “I wouldn’t put it past them.”

“Also, I don’t think I told you this, but there’s this other guy out there, a sort of friend of mine named Ben Blagwell, and he’s a good guy and all, but if he sees me I just know I’ll have a hard time getting away from him –”

“Ben Blagwell –”

“Yeah, another fictional character –”

“I see –”

“And, you know, who knows who else might accost us.”


“And here’s what I’ve learned, Josh,” I said, “back in my own world. Some people need very little excuse to accost another person.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” said Josh.

“But it’s worse now,” I said. “Because the word seems to have gotten out about who you are.”

“Yes,” said Josh. “My reputation does seem to have followed me.”

“I’m afraid if we go out there we’ll be mobbed. Ganged up on. Forced to have more drinks.”

“There are worse fates I should think.”

“But remember, you wanted to get back to Carlotta.”

“Oh. Right,” said Josh. “But what do you propose we do? Try to find another way out of here? I suppose that’s possible. There must be another exit somewhere along this hallway. One would think the fire code if nothing else would –”

“Well, we could try that,” I said. “But I was wondering, I mean, I hesitate to ask –”

“Oh, please, don’t be shy. We’re pals, Arnold. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask me anything.”

“But I know you wanted just to be like a normal man.”

“Yes indeed. So?”

“Well, I was wondering if maybe you wouldn’t mind using your powers to just sort of transport us out of here.”

“Oh, I see.”

“I mean, if you didn’t want to, I understand.”

Okay,” he said. “I get it. Just sort of make us automatically be upstairs in the Parnassus.”

“The Valhalla,” I said.

“Right, sorry, the Valhalla.”

“Yes,” I said. “But only if you didn’t mind.”

“Well,” he said. “That certainly would be a solution as to how to get upstairs without being as you say accosted –”

“Yes,” I said.

“ – by importunate fictional characters.”

“Right,” I said.

“Well, to answer your question, Arnie – why, yes, I suppose I could do that.”

“Really?” I said.

“Yes, of course. The only thing is, eventually I’ll have to stop doing this sort of thing.”

“I know,” I said.

“I mean if I’m to follow through on my intention to become human.”

“Yes,” I said.

“But, really,” he said, “couldn’t we just look for another exit?”

“Well, sure,” I said. “But –”


“What if the exit leads to yet another dimension, another universe, with other people who would, who would –”

“Accost us.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I see,” he said.

“I mean,” I said, “all I meant to do earlier was to go to the men’s room, and so far I’ve gotten in the middle of a fight amongst a bunch of boring authors, I’ve wandered into a bar filled with all these fictional characters, I’ve been in another bar that’s nothing but people from old movies –”

“Okay, I see your point,” he said. “We wander through another doorway and, who knows, all hell might break loose.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Possibly quite literally all hell might break loose.”


“Okay, you’ve talked me into it,” he said. “Are you ready?”

“Right now?” I said.

“Sure,” he said. “No time like the present. I mean now that we’re actually in the present time again. Or shall we say a version of the present time.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’m ready.”

“All right then. Oh, but wait, I just thought of something.”

“What?” I said.

“Won’t it seem a little odd to everyone, our just suddenly appearing out of nowhere in the middle of the bar upstairs?”

“Oh,” I said, “right. I hadn’t thought of that.”

“I’d prefer not to, shall we say, draw attention to myself in quite such a dramatic fashion.”

“Yes, you’re right,” I said. “Well, how about this then. Why not just transport us to outside the entrance to the bar down here.”

“Outside the fictional-characters bar –”

“Right,” I said. “And then from there we can just go up the stairs. To the other bar.”

“The Valhalla.”

“Right,” I said.

This was boring, but I felt as if we were possibly making some headway.

“Okay,” he said. “That should work. I guess.”

“Right,” I said.

“And then we can say I just went down here looking for you.”

“Which you did,” I said.

“Because you had come down here to find another men’s room.”

“Yes, which is what I did, actually.”

“Okay,” he said.

“Right,” I said.

“All right,” he said. “That sounds like a good plan of action to me.”

“Good,” I said.

“So – are you ready?”

“Yes,” I said. I had been ready.

“Okay, then,” he said. “Let’s do it.”

I saw the little red light rise up again and flare more brightly red as Josh took another drag.

I waited.

Nothing happened.

I waited some more.

Nothing happened.

“Hmm,” said Josh, if making that sound can be said to be saying something.

“Is there something wrong?” I said.

“Well, just give me another moment,” he said.

I gave him another moment. And then another.

Nothing happened.

“Josh,” I said, “may I make a suggestion?”

“I’m trying, Arnold,” he said.

“I know,” I said. “But I was going to suggest, maybe if you tried that closing your eyes thing.”

“Oh, right. You know, that may help. Okay.”

The red light of the cigarette rose up again in front of the paleness of his face, he took another drag, exhaled very slowly, the pale smoke disappeared into the darkness, and then the deep blue of his eyes disappeared as he closed them, and I waited.

I waited, and then I too closed my eyes, don’t ask me why, there was no reason for me to think that doing so would help, but I did, and then I felt odd, I felt a different sort of air touching my skin, not so much a fresher air, but an air of a different sort of lack-of-freshness.

I opened my eyes.

We were standing on the sidewalk outside the bar upstairs, the Valhalla. 

Josh opened his eyes also and looked around.

“I seem to have miscalculated,” he said.

“Not by too much,” I said.

A car drove by down MacDougal Street, a dark green Hudson, I think it was a 1950 model. But otherwise the street was quiet. It was pretty late at night. But we could hear noise coming from the Valhalla, juke box music, the faint sound of people’s voices laughing, shouting, the sound of drunken merry-making.

“Still,” said Josh. “One would think I could do better than this.”

“Well, remember, Josh,” I said. “You have had quite a lot to drink tonight.”

“Yes,” he said.

He took a drag on his cigarette.

“So,” he said, “shall we go in, then?”

“Well,” I said. I looked around. A couple of drunk guys came out of the Kettle of Fish bar across the street, and with them came a little roar of jazz music and of shouting and laughter, then the door closed behind the two men and the little roar receded as if being sucked back into the bar.

The two guys proceeded to stumble down the street in the direction of that other bar down on the corner of Bleecker, the San Remo. They were laughing and talking loudly, and they looked familiar, and then I realized it was those two guys Jack and Bill whom I had met in the San Remo a few lifetimes ago. I turned away so that they wouldn’t recognize me.

“Hey, let’s go, Arnold,” said Josh.

“Well, you know, Josh,” I said. “Here’s the thing. Maybe it’s time for me just to go back to my own world now.”

“Oh,” he said. “That’s right. You did want to go back, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, I can understand that.”

“I wonder, Josh,” I said, “if it’s not too much trouble, maybe you could just send me back to my own world.”

“Right now?”


“Well, sure,” he said. “But it seems like we’ve hardly even spent any time together, Arnie.”

“I know,” I said, although, actually, it felt to me as if we had spent a great deal of time together. Not that I minded spending time with Josh, but – I’ll admit it – I think I was feeling homesick. Homesick for my own world. It wasn’t a perfect world by any means, but it was my world.

“Well, okay,” said Josh. “I’ll miss you though, Arnold.”

Out here on the sidewalk, under the street lamp, Josh was now of course completely visible, and that glow emanating from within him which I had noticed in the dark hallway was much more pronounced.

“I’ll miss you too, Josh,” I said.

“But we’ll meet again,” he said. “You can be sure of that, old buddy. Oh. But there was something you wanted me to do for you, right, a back pain?”

“Yes,” I said. “But don’t worry about that now. It was presumptuous of me in the first place.”

“To ask me to take the pain away?”

“Yes,” I said. “After all, people all over the world are in pain. Why should I get any special treatment.”

“Well, you are my friend, Arnold. At least I like to think you are.”

“Yes,” I said. “But even so I shouldn’t be going around asking for special favors –”

“Arnold, people ask me for special favors every second of every day. That’s all they do is ask me for favors. It gets a little tedious to be quite honest. So please don’t feel bad just because this once you ask a favor.”

“If it’s all the same,” I said, “I’d just as soon go home and face the music.”

“You are an odd one.”

“I know,” I said.

“Well, tell you what, just because you’re asking me not to help you, I am going to help you.”

“Josh,” I said.

“Forget it,” he said. “It’s done. When you return that back of yours will be good as new. I mean, it’s not broken or anything, is it?”

“No,” I said. “Just threw it out opening a window.”

“Child’s play to fix that. We’re not talking about curing cancer here. Lower back?”

“Yes,” I said. “But really –”

“No, forget it,” he said. “Like I said, it’s already done. So, you want to go back right now?”

“Yes,” I said. “I mean if it’s not too much trouble.”

“No trouble at all,” he said. “I mean I’m sorry to see you go, but, well, anyway, I did want to get together with Carlotta as you know –”

“Yes,” I said.

“And I want you to know that I shall take under serious advisement what you said to me.”

“What I said to you?” I said. Remember, I was tired, and distracted, and somewhat drunk.

“Your advice about Carlotta,” he said.

“Oh, right,” I said. “Well, you know, what do I know?”

Josh paused for a moment. I waited, thinking he was going to say something in response to what I had just said, probably something about how I actually knew quite a bit, and possessed remarkable wisdom for a human being.

But he didn’t say anything.

I waited. I didn’t want to hurry him. After all he was doing me a big favor. Actually he was doing me a couple of big favors, not only sending me home, but sending me home with a cured lower back. I thought about what I would do when I got back. I supposed there was no way to get out of running that errand for Mr. Arbuthnot’s cat, Shnooby, but with any luck when I finished that I might be able to get together with Elektra that evening, maybe get a burger and a beer or something. I might need a nap first, though. It had been a really long day, perhaps the longest day of my life, or of any of my lives –

“Well, this is weird,” said Josh.

“What is?” I said.

“You’re still here.”

“Um,” I said.

“I’ve been standing here willing you to return to your world, but nothing’s happening.”

“Oh, no,” I said.

“This is really odd,” he said.

“Oh, no,” I said again.

“Now, don’t be alarmed,” he said.

“Um,” I said.

To make matters worse, my right knee started to pain me again, I guess from just standing without moving around for too long. Also my head hurt from where I had hit it trying to vault over that bar top like an idiot. But at least my back didn’t hurt. Not yet it didn’t.

“Maybe you should try again, Josh,” I said.

“Arnold,” said Josh, “I’ve never stopped trying. I’m trying now.”

“Oh,” I said. 

“I’ll try closing my eyes,” he said.

“Good idea,” I said.

Josh closed his eyes.

I waited.

Nothing happened.

I closed my own eyes, thinking that might help.

I waited.

I waited a little bit longer.

I opened my eyes.

I was still there, and so was Josh, standing there with his eyes closed, the both of us still there on that sidewalk outside the Valhalla.

Another car drove by. This one was a Hupmobile, dark grey, I wasn’t sure of the year.

I looked at Josh, and finally he opened his eyes, looked at me, looked around.

“Wow,” he said. “I’m really sorry about this, Arnold.”

(Continued here, unremittingly.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a quite often current listing of links to all other officially released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©, a Roger Corman Production for American International Pictures. Now appearing concurrently in the Collingswood Patch™: “South Jersey’s rebuttal to the world.”)


Unknown said...

Not the first time Josh has offered real praise. Just the first time it got through to me: a God praising a man! In that, He's not only divine but unique.

Unknown said...

Coming in late as usual, I may have got the episodes mixed up. In the next one, Josh admires Arnold. Here, He affably accepts personal failure with a calm apology.

Dan Leo said...

Thanks, Kathleen – I always appreciate your comments!

Cesar said...


Dan Leo said...

Thank you, Cesar!