Saturday, September 28, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 365: “fou”

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend Ferdinand the fly, here in the men’s room of Greenwich Village’s San Remo Café, on a hot wet night in August of 1957...

(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; if you’re suffering from chronic insomnia it might help if you go back and start at the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning masterpiece.)

“It can honestly be said that Arnold Schnabel’s
chef-d'œuvre is one of the very few 79-volume autobiographies that one only wishes were longer – much, much longer.” — Harold Bloom, in Collier’s Magazine.

“But you, my friend,” Ferdinand turned around on my palm and looked up at me, “you I got a bone to pick with, too.”

“Look, I’m really sorry, Ferdy,” I said. “I didn’t know you were in that beer.”

“My own pal, swallowing me down like I was an egg in his beer. Do I look like an egg to you?”

“No,” I said. “But, look, Ferdinand, you know I’m not in the habit of examining my beer for flies each time I take a drink.”

“Oh, so now it’s my fault.”

“Well, I’m not saying it’s your fault, exactly,” I said, “but if you had just waited until I returned I would have gladly put a couple of drops on the bar top for you to drink.”

“So, you are blaming me. I get swallowed, and then puked up into a toilet, the force of which knocks me the fuck out cold, coulda died, probably almost did croak, and now I get the blame.”

“I’m sorry, Ferdy,” I said, returning to the diminutive form of his name, probably in the base hope thereby of mollifying him, and despite my odd reluctance to use that form of his name, and also despite the fact that I didn’t feel that it was I who was to blame, and that if anyone was, it was Ferdinand himself and not me.

He was looking down now, and rubbed one of his legs a few times on the palm of my hand, it tickled slightly.

Finally he looked up at me again.

“You know I can read your thoughts, right?” he said.

“Oh,” I said. That was embarrassing. But how many times can you apologize? I decided one more time couldn’t hurt. “Well, look, I’m sorry, Ferdinand. I really am. But it was an accident. Can’t we just forget about who’s to blame and move on?”

“That depends,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. I hated this sort of thing, where someone forced you to ask the obvious question. However, I knew we would never move on until I asked it, preferably in a manner that indicated I actually cared what the answer was. So, “What does it depend on,” I said.

“It depends on if you buy us another beer.”

“Oh, Christ,” I said.

“Don’t drag your buddy Christ into this. One more beer, and also a shot of whiskey, your choice.”

“I don’t want any whiskey.”

“Okay, my choice then. Carstairs is good for me. Now clean yourself up and let’s get back out there.”

“Okay, listen, Ferdinand –” I said.

“I am listening,” he said. “With breath bated. Pray continue.”

“All right. Look, I haven’t had a chance to tell you yet, but I have to go back to that Valhalla place to see Josh. It turns out their number isn’t listed, so I couldn’t call him up.”

“Fine. Whatever,” he said. “But let’s have a shot and a beer first.”

“But what if Josh comes out and finds me missing?”

“So what? He kept you waiting, didn’t he? What are you supposed to do, sit out there all night cooling your heels? Uh-uh. I don’t think so.”

“But, still, it just seems rude to me, just to take off without a word –”

“Arnie, can we talk man to man?”

“Yes,” I said.

He flew up off my palm, the first time he had flown since I had almost killed him. He described a little spiral, and then came to a hovering rest in the air a few inches from my nose.

“Or man to fly,” he said.

“Sure,” I said.

“Your friend, this ‘Josh’ – what’s his job description again?”

“Well, as I said,” I said. “I know it sounds incredible, but he’s the son of God.”

“Okay. And you’re sure of this.”

“Pretty sure,” I said. “One time when I got hit by lightning and almost died he even took me into his father’s house.”

“He took you in himself.”

“Oh, yes.”

“Past St. Peter and everything.”

“Yes,” I said. “St. Peter was actually a little reluctant, but Josh got me in.”

“A word in his ear so to speak.”

“Yes,” I said. “He, um, you know –”

“And what was this ‘house’ like? I take it it’s not like some suburban ranch house.”

“No,” I said. “It’s a great big old fashioned house with spires and gables, up on top of a hill.”

“Nice. Nice furnishings and all I guess.”

“Well, I’m no expert on that sort of thing,” I said, “but everything did look kind of expensive.”

“Hey, it’s God’s house. He’s gonna live in some dump?”


“Okay, whatever, so your pal’s the son of God. Now correct me if my theology is faulty, but don’t that make him God also, according to the concept of the Trinity?”

“Yes,” I said. “I believe that’s correct. God the Father, God the son, and God the, uh, holy, you know, ghost.”

“Why did you look funny when you mentioned the holy ghost.”

“Well,” I said, “you’re not going to believe this, but I met him too tonight.”

“The holy ghost.”

“Yes,” I said. ”He goes by the name of H.G.



“What’s he look like?”

“Little man, middle-aged. Dark old-fashioned three-piece suit. A derby and a cane.”

“Derby and a cane.”

“That’s right. He was in disguise as a human I guess.”

“Sure. And what about the big guy, the head man upstairs himself?”

“The father,” I said.

“You meet him?”

“No,” I said. “Not yet.”

“Not yet. Okay. Well, here’s what I’m thinking, Arnie.”

“Okay,” I said. “But, look, Ferdinand, can’t we talk on the way over to the Valhalla? It’ll only take a minute.”

“It’ll only take me a minute to say what I have to say, Arnie. So keep you shirt on. And may I just suggest, by way of preamble, why don’t you go back to the sink and rinse your mouth out with some nice fresh water.”

“Oh, my breath smells bad.”

“It is not your fault. You just threw up your guts, and me. This action perforce must affect the usual springtime fresh aroma of your breath. Not that it bothers me, a fly, but it would bother most humans I daresay.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll rinse my mouth.”

I turned back to the sink, turned the cold water tap on.

“May I suggest also, Arnold, that you grab some of them paper towels out of the dispenser, wet them, and just give your tie a quick little dab.”

I lifted my tie up. Sure enough, its matte grey was stained with vomit. A cursory glance though revealed only a handful of specks on the front of my seersucker jacket and my plaid work shirt. 

I reached over to the dispenser to one side of the sink, cranked out some paper, and ripped it off.

“May I speak, Arnold, whilst you are attending to your ablutions?”

“Sure, go ahead, Ferdinand.”

I set to work dampening the stiff brown paper with water from the tap.

“In regards to your divine friend, this ‘Josh’ as you call him.” He had flown to the top of the mirror above the sink, and he sat on its top edge while he continued to look down and talk to me, or at me. “He seems like a sterling fellow, don’t get me wrong, a very nice chap.”

“He should be,” I said. I turned off the tap, and then I began wiping my tie with the wet paper, as well as my jacket lapels and my shirt.

“Yes, he should be,” said Ferdinand, “him being the son of the big guy, him being, in a sense – and in a very real sense I daresay, depending of course on one’s religious beliefs – him being as I say in a manner of speaking the big guy himself, or at least a facet of the big guy himself –  why, yes, you are right, my friend, your comrade Josh should be a very nice chap. But, may I remind you once again, he and he alone was the one who left you, his supposed friend – his pal, his buddy – sitting alone, forlorn and in agonizing pain on that wet stoop out there across the street. By the way, I’ll bet the seat of your pants is still wet, is it not?”

I reached back and down and picked at the cloth.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m afraid it’s still a little damp.”

“And your bum leg by the way, is it still bum?”

“My knee?” I said. I had forgotten about the pain momentarily, but now of course this pain leaped to the forefront of my consciousness. “Yes,” I said. “Ow, I have to remember not to stand on it too long.”

I shifted my weight to my left leg.

“So you are left sitting there, for at least a half hour, on your wet ass, with your leg in excruciating agony, waiting in vain for your bosom divine buddy ‘Josh’ to come back out with the aspirins he promised to get you, and now, now – you want to go back over there because you’re afraid of seeming rude to him. This I do not understand.”

“But, you know –” I said. 

I crumpled up the wet and now slightly vomity paper into a ball and tossed it into or rather toward the waste basket in the corner. The paper bounced off the rim of the basket and down to the floor. I made a move to go over and get it, but Ferdinand quickly dived down and hovered right in front of my face.

“What?” I said.

“Leave it,” said Ferdinand.

“I just want to pick up that wad of paper.”

“I said leave it. Are you the clean-up man around here?”

“No,” I said.

“Then leave it.”

“It seems rude,” I said.

“Rude to who? The clean-up guy? The other patrons?”

“Well, yes,” I said. “To the clean-up guy, and the patrons and also the staff –”

“Arnie, stop talking shit for a second and look at this floor. Go ahead, please. Just look at it.”

I looked at that stained tile floor. It was filthy and slimy, and littered with cigarette- and cigar-butts, with numerous scraps and wads of the brown towel-paper, with expectorated chewing gum, and with the tramped on and scattered typewritten sheets of what was probably someone’s only copy of a great first novel.

“Okay, I see what you mean,” I said.

“Great, now turn the cold water back on and rinse out your mouth and splash some cold water on your face. You look fucking pallid if you don’t mind my saying so.”

I proceeded to do as he suggested.

It had come to this. 

I was taking orders from a fly.

“Anyway, whatever,” he said. He flew back to his perch at the top of the mirror. “So you see my point, Arnie.”

I spat out some of the water I had been running into my cupped hand and thence into my mouth.

“Your point?” I said.

“My point being why should you care any more about the goddam son of God than he cares about you?”

I splashed some water on my face. It did feel good to do this. I’m not going to say I felt like a million bucks, but I didn’t feel horribly wretched by any means, although my knee still hurt and the seat of my pants was still damp.

I turned off the tap, then reached over to the paper towel dispenser again, cranked out a sheet. I patted my face dry with it, and then looked into the mirror. I was still someone else, but that was better than being no one.

I crumpled the brown paper, tossed it over to the waste basket, attempting to bank it off the wall this time, and it landed in the basket but bounced out again to the floor.

I raised and tightened the knot of my tie somewhat, although I left the top button of my shirt unbuttoned. I was, after all, a bohemian poet, or at least in this world I was.

“So what do ya say, Arnie pal? We go back to the bar and have a nice cold beer, a shot of Carstairs? Maybe you prefer Schenley’s, it don’t matter to me.”

“Ferdinand,” I said, after one of my famous sighs, “I don’t want to go back to see Josh because he’s the son of God. I want to go back because he’s my friend, even if he himself has been perhaps slightly remiss as a friend. And I would do the same for you.”

“You’re saying,” said Ferdinand, “that you would treat me, a humble house fly, no different from how you would treat the son of God?”

“Well, uh –” 

“You do not have to answer that.”

“Thank you,” I said. 

“Very well,” he said, after a short pause. “We will go back to the other dive. After all, it is just across the street and up the block a little. But – just promise me this, Arnie. The first thing we do when we get back there, you will order a beer and a shot.”

“Okay, I will,” I said. “I mean, I’ll probably first say hello to Josh if he’s still there, but –”

“You say hello,” said Ferdinand. “You can also politely say hello to them two broads if they’re still there. Polite, sure – how are you, good to see you again – but then you say excuse me and you order one mug of beer and one shot of Carstairs.”

“I will,“ I said.

The door had opened and two guys had come in, one right after the other. It was that dark-haired guy named Jack and that tall pale fair-haired fellow with the glasses, Bill – the guys I had met in this place a few years ago or maybe just earlier today, depending on how you looked at it.

“Talking to yourself, Porter?” said the Bill guy.

“Um,” I said.

Il est fou,” said the Jack guy. “Complètement fou.”

Then he shoved past me and started vomiting in the sink.

(Continued here, it must be done.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a fitfully-current listing of links to all other published episodes of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven™. Now appearing also in the
Collingswood Patch: “That soft voice you hear late at night drifting over the highways and the shopping malls and through the trees of the Pine Barrens.”)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 364: good friend

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend Ferdinand the talkative fly in the midst of a rather unpleasant regurgitative experience in the men’s room of the San Remo Café, here in Greenwich Village, on a warm and wet night in that momentous August of 1957...

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you’ve completely surrendered any pretense to rational behavior then you are welcome to click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 71-volume memoir.)

“Kindly pry your eyes loose from your so-called smart phones, while I attempt to lure you into that world which contains all worlds, the world of Arnold Schnabel.” — Harold Bloom, opening remarks to the first class of his Fall 2013 course at Yale University: “
Railroad Train to Heaven: A Tentative Introduction”.

I had been having terrible luck in men’s rooms this day, this day which at this rate would never end.

Just a little earlier this evening had been the men’s room in that sub-basement bar beneath that Valhalla place, with those unpleasantly sinister characters from classic American literature, or at least I assumed the works they sprang from were classics since I was pretty sure all of them had been adapted into Classics Illustrated comic books. 

And then the men’s room before that, upstairs in the Valhalla, where I had somehow gotten mixed up in a brawl with a band of tedious dead authors of what I supposed I must assume to be classic literature, not that I had read any of their books, and after meeting these fellows and their creations I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to read them.

And then before that had been that horrible outhouse in Singapore, I guess really that one had been the worst of all.

Although the one before that had been pretty bad too, in that diner in some little town out in the middle of nowhere. Where that skinny fellow who claimed to have a wife and six kids had tried to proposition me, or at least the me I was at that time.

And now here I was in the men’s room of the San Remo, the very same men’s room where, come to think of it, I had first met Ferdinand, thirty months ago or maybe just last night.

Here I was again, holding my breath as I dipped forefinger and thumb into the vomitous and urinous water and extracted my no longer screaming friend, my utterly silent friend, from that stinking mess.

I held the poor slimy fellow up as close to my face as I could bear. He was not only silent now but unmoving also. Had the explosive force of his exit from my mouth and into the toilet finally been too much for the little guy?

“Is he dead?” said a familiar gruff voice behind and above me.

Still on my knees, I twisted around and looked up.

It was Hemingway.

“If he’s dead you might as well just flick him back in and pull the chain, pal. Dead is dead, and dead men do not care how or even if they are buried. Nor, or so I can only imagine, do dead flies.”

“I can’t just flush him,” I said.

I closed the seat of the toilet, and bracing my free hand on it, I pushed myself to my feet, favoring my bad knee, which ached worse now from kneeling on that hard tile floor. 

I turned around. Hemingway was standing there right outside of the door of the stall. He still had that enormous beer stein in one hand, and his big cigar in his other hand. He still had that black beret on his head.

“Excuse me,” I said.

“I hope you’re going to flush the toilet,” he said.

“Oh, right, sorry,” I said.

I turned around again. It was one of those old-fashioned toilets with the water tank mounted up on the wall, with a chain that ended in a worn brown teardrop-shaped wooden handle, a handle probably rife with bacteria, but what could one do about that except to wash one’s hands immediately after leaving the stall?

I pulled the chain, and the toilet flushed with a sound of a hundred tool boxes being dumped from a dump truck down the steps of a subway station.

The rainbow-colored garbage in the bowl spun about, but instead of sinking it rose up, swirling, bubbling, like some living thing trying to escape into the greater world.

“Oh, great,” said Hemingway, who was still standing right behind me, breathing warm tobacco smoke onto the back of my neck. “Now you’ve done it.”

“But you told me to flush it,” I said, staring with horror at the toilet and what was in it, rising, inexorably, relentlessly.

“Hey, man, don’t shift the blame on me,” he said.

I backed up a half step, not wanting the vomit and urine and God knows what else to overflow onto my shoes, and I bumped into Hemingway, or into his belly anyway, which felt very round and soft, like a beach ball.

“Hey, watch it, Mac,” he said.

I was about to say something I might have regretted, or, more probably, not, but just then I noticed that the living thing that was in the toilet stopped rising just as it reached the edge of the bowl.

The awful clanking noise had finally subsided also, its distant echoes fading slowly away, as if those hundreds of tool boxes were now tumbling off into subterranean chambers hidden deep in the bowels of the earth.

“Thank God,” I said.

The toilet suddenly gave out with one final belching noise, and a large bubble rose to the surface and popped. And with that, I couldn’t be sure, but it almost seemed as if the vile mess began infinitesimally slowly to start to descend back down into the bowl.

“That was a close one,” said Hemingway, still standing right behind me, and in fact it was almost as if he were now deliberately resting his enormous pot belly in the small of my back.

I turned around.

“Would you excuse me, please?” I said.

“What do you mean?” he said. “For throwing up, or for almost flooding the whole john with your vomit.”

“I meant excuse me, would you please step aside,” I said.

“Oh. Sure,” he said. “Why didn’t you say so?”

And he stepped aside a little bit, tapping his cigar ash onto the floor as he did so.

“Thank you,” I said, and I started limping toward the washbasin.

“Toilet or trash can, or washed down the drainpipe, it’s all the same to a dead fly,” said Hemingway.

At the sink I turned the cold water tap on, and adjusted it so that it was just barely a trickle.

“What are you doing, gonna rinse him off a little?” said Hemingway.

“Yes,” I said, although I was sorely tempted to say nothing.

I still held Ferdinand’s unmoving little body between my thumb and forefinger, and now I held him under the gentle trickle from the spigot.

“Sure,” said Hemingway. “Give the little guy a rinse. What the hell.” 

I could hear him coming closer to me. Why did people always want to come so close? In my experience it is so much more pleasant to move farther away.

“That’s it, clean him up good.”

He was now practically looming over my shoulder, and his cigar smoke wafted past both sides of my head.

“It’s only right I suppose, to bathe the dead,” he said, “even if it is only a dead fly.”

“Listen,” I said, continuing to let the cool water trickle over Ferdinand, “Mr. Hemingway –”

I glanced at him through the mirror above the sink.

“Please. I told you before,” he said. “Call me ‘Papa’. We’re both members of the creative writers’ club, even if you are a poet. Let’s keep it on a first name basis. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said.

“Okay what?”

“Okay. Ernest,” I said.

“All right,” he said. “Let’s amend what I said. Let’s say let’s keep it on a first-nickname basis.”

“First nickname.”

“In other words call me Papa.”

“Okay. Papa,” I said.

“Yes, Paul?”

“My name’s not Paul,” I said.

“I thought it was Paul.”

“No,” I said. “It’s Porter. In this world I’m Porter.”

“Right,” he said. “But in some other world you’re – don’t tell me – Harold –”

“Arnold,” I said.

Albert,” he said.

“Arnold,” I said.


“Yes,” I said, “but, listen, Papa, do you mind stepping away from me?”

“Stepping what? Away? Why, am I bothering you standing here?”

“Yes,” I said. “You’re looming. And you’re also breathing your cigar smoke over my shoulder.”

“Hey, this is a real Cuban Cohiba, pal, not some Dutch Masters you pick up behind the counter at Walgreen’s I’ll have you know.”

“I’m sure it’s a fine cigar,” I said. “I’d just prefer you didn’t blow the smoke over my shoulder.”

“Christ, all right, don’t get all bent out of shape about it, pal.”

At last he stepped back, but only a foot or so.

I continued to let the water trickle over Ferdinand.

“He’s probably clean now, you know, Philip,” said Hemingway.

“I know,” I said.

It was true, poor Ferdinand was clean and glistening.

“So just do him a favor,” said Hemingway. “Say a fond farewell and wash him down the drain.”

I turned around.

Hemingway was standing there, drinking out of his stein. He let the lid of the stein click shut, and then he wiped his whiskers with the back of his hand, the one that he held the cigar with.

“What?” he said. “What’s your problem.”

“Listen, ‘Papa’,” I said. “This fly may be a fly. But he’s not an ordinary fly. You saw – or heard – the proof of that yourself. He is, or was, a talking fly, a sentient fly, a fly with feelings, and with his own sort of wit, and also, if I may say so, he is or was a fly with a certain sense of loyalty. He was not without his faults. Who is? But he has stood by me in some tough times, and I’m not afraid to say, or ashamed to say, that he was my friend. So I’ll kindly request that you keep your suggestions about what I should do with his little body to yourself.”

“Most people would be happy to hear my suggestions. I did win the Nobel Prize, y’know.”

“I don’t care,” I said.

“For Literature,” he said.

“I still don’t care,” I said.

He said nothing for a few moments. I wondered if he was going to punch me. But he didn’t.

“You got some hard crust on you, boy,” he said. “You’re talking to someone wasn’t afraid to go ten rounds with Tolstoy, or Turgenev, or even Flaubert. Old man Joyce, well, that was another matter. Don’t know if I’d want to step into the ring with old Jim. Maybe just maybe a three-rounder, an exhibition bout, like.”

I just looked at him.

“He was a pal of mine, Jimmy Joyce.” said Hemingway. “Slim Jim I used to call him. I knew everybody. Pablo Picasso? Good friend, very good friend. Gary Cooper? Hunting buddy of mine, great guy. Marlene Dietrich? The movie star? Very good friend of mine. Not that the Kraut and I ever got it on, you know. That’s what I used to call her, ‘the Kraut’. I mean I probably could’ve got it on with her if I’d wanted to –”

“Fuck you, you name-dropping blowhard,” said a small, weak, but familiar voice.

“Oh, no,” said Hemingway, or Papa.

“Arnie’s not impressed, and you know what, I’m not so impressed either,” said Ferdinand, still between my thumb and index finger.

I lifted my other hand up and placed him gently in its palm.

“Ferdinand,” I said. “I’m so glad you’re alive.”

“No thanks to you, pal,” he said.

“Wait, just tell me this,” said Hemingway. “Percival, am I imagining all this? A talking fly?”

“Maybe Arnold’s imagining you, Papa,” said Ferdinand. “Or maybe I am. What do you think of that?”

“I think –” said Hemingway.

“Oh, do you,” said Ferdinand.

“Yes, I do,” said Hemingway. “I think – I think I need a very large and a very strong frozen daiquiri, topped with a good splash of ‘151’ rum.”

“Yeah, that’ll make you feel lots better,” said Ferdinand.

“Perhaps,” said Hemingway. “Perhaps for a moment it will. A brief moment. So. I guess I’ll catch you guys later then.”

“Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out,” said Ferdinand. “Papa.”

Hemingway looked at Ferdinand, and for a moment it almost seemed as if he were going to challenge my tiny friend to a fight. But instead he put his cigar in his mouth, turned, staggered to the door, opened it, and left.

“Trying to high-horse us,” said Ferdinand. “Guys like that piss me the fuck off. I don’t care if he did win the Nobel Prize. And I still say he shot his wad after The Sun Also Rises.”

(Continued here, bashing on regardless.)

(Please look to the right-hand column of this page for a usually reasonably-updated listing of links to all other available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven™. Now published also in the Collingswood Patch™: “That faint voice of freedom one sometimes hears late at night as one wanders drunkenly and quite lost through the Pine Barrens.”)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 363: swallow

Let’s rejoin our intrepid hero Arnold Schnabel and his faithful companion Ferdinand the talkative fly, here at the bar in the San Remo Café, on a warm and fateful night in August of 1957, in Greenwich Village, in another world...

(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; if you’ve finally finished reading Proust in the original French then you are free to go here to return to the misty far-off beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 82-volume autobiography.)

“What joy to begin a new semester and to introduce a new classroom full of semi-literate louts and slatterns to the glories of Arnold Schnabel’s towering masterpiece.” — Harold Bloom, in
The Journal of Modern Literature.

The bartender was a trained professional, and so, even though it had taken him at least a quarter of an hour to get to me in the first place, he brought my mug of beer over in less than a minute, and I was ready with a crumpled dollar bill I had extricated from my wallet.

“That’ll be a dime, sport.”

I handed him the dollar. At these prices, even though I had only seven dollars and change on me, I could at the very least get really drunk if I chose to. But this was the new me, or a version of the new me. I didn’t want to get drunk. I wanted to go home to my own world. Where, it was true, I might want to get drunk, if not right away then perhaps later in the day; but first I wanted to get back there, and then and only then I would decide whether to get drunk, and, if so, when.

– Hey, stop daydreaming and give me a little splash, Arnie, said Ferdinand telepathically. Just a couple of drops on the bar top there.

He was circling eagerly over the mug of beer.

I dipped a couple of fingertips into the foamy head, then tapped them on the bar top, leaving two wet spots of fresh beer.

– Come on, don’t be stingy, Arnie, said Ferdinand’s voice in my brain, so I dipped my fingers in the beer again and tapped a couple of more drops onto the bar.

– Now we’re talking, pal, he said silently. Bottoms up, pal!

He descended to the droplets of beer and without further ceremony, began to drink.

I lifted the mug and took a drink myself. It was Rheingold, or Schaefer, or Ballantine, it didn’t matter, it was beer, and it was cold, and it tasted good, or, if not good, then not bad, which is all I have ever really asked of beer.

I lowered the mug, taking care not to lower it on top of Ferdinand, who was still eagerly slurping.

The bartender came back with my change and laid it on the bar.

“Here,” I said.

I picked up a quarter and handed it to him.

“Gee, thanks, pal,” he said, and I don’t think he was being sarcastic.

“You’re welcome,” I said.

“Usually I’m lucky to get even a dime from a poet,” he said.

“I believe in taking care of the bartender,” I said.

“It ain’t easy tending bar in a joint like this,” he said. “Writers. Painters. Poets. They all think the world owes ‘em a living. But it don’t.”

“I agree,” I said, although actually I had no opinion at all on the subject, but it has always been my policy to agree with anything a bartender says.

“You’re all right, pal,” he said. “Maybe.”

At last he went away, to wait on or to bother someone else.

I took another, smaller drink of my beer. It hadn’t gotten any worse.

Ferdinand was still down there on the bar top slurping up his droplets of Schmidt’s or Ortlieb’s or whatever it was.

I put my finger in the beer again, and placed another little drop next to Ferdinand, it seemed the generous thing to do.

Then it occurred to me that there was something else I was supposed to be doing. What could it be?

– Your friend, thought Ferdinand, in between quaffs, and without looking up. You wanted to call your pal, the son of God.

“Oh, right,” I said, remembering to say it only within the confines of my cavernous and echoing brain. "Josh."

– Go ahead, thought Ferdinand. Call him. I'll watch your beer.

So I picked up my change and pocketed it, got off my stool and made my limping way (yes, my leg still hurt, in case you were wondering) through the crowd to the phone booth at the rear of the room.

The booth was unoccupied, I went in, closed the door, the little overhead light came on. 

I opened up the telephone directory on its little ledge, and I turned to the Vs and looked for Valhalla.


No Valhalla Bar.

No Valhalla Bar, nor Tavern, nor Café nor Club, nothing. 

So the place’s number was unlisted. If they even had a telephone.

I closed the phone book, and leaned back against the inner wall of the booth, looking out at the bar and all the drunken people.

Josh was going to be mad at me, or at least disappointed in me, his supposed friend. Me, the great Arnold Schnabel, who was too self-centeredly impatient to wait for the only son of God, even if he had left me sitting on that damp stoop for at least ten minutes after saying he was just going down to the bar to get me some aspirin. 

And he was going to be even more disappointed if he found out that I had been talked into leaving by a fly.

I obviously didn’t deserve Josh’s help. But then on the other hand I was almost certain he had tarried to have another drink. Perhaps he had forgotten about me entirely, and was still down there, drinking fine private stock malt whisky, and enjoying the company of Carlotta, who was undoubtedly much more fun to be around than my own baleful self.

Well, regardless, even if Josh was being a little forgetful if not rude in leaving me out there sitting on those wet steps for so long, possibly as long as fifteen minutes now that I thought about it, that still didn’t give me the right to be willfully rude, especially to someone like him, who, after all, probably had a lot more on his mind than I could ever possibly have.

There was only one thing to do. I would have to go back to the Valhalla at once, and, if Josh indeed had not yet come out with aspirin for me, then I would be in the clear; if however he had come out and found me missing all I could do was to be a man about it and apologize. I was still at heart a Catholic after all, abject contrition was no problem for me.

I opened the phone booth’s accordion door and headed back to the bar to get Ferdinand. I figured as long as I was doing this I might as well quickly finish off my beer, which I could do in a matter of seconds. Surely there could be no harm in that.

I made it back to my seat without incident, and my beer was where I had left it. I sat down and picked it up, and, after sighing just once and quickly, I put the mug to my lips and quaffed.

“Hey! What the fuck!” screamed Ferdinand’s voice, but now to my horror I realized that the voice was coming from inside my mouth. 

I swallowed, compulsively.

“Motherfucker!” cried Ferdinand’s voice and now to my further horror I realized that the voice was in my throat, and descending, rapidly. “You motherfucker!” cried Ferdinand inside me. “You fucking swallowed me! And I thought you were my pal!

– Oh, God, I’m sorry, Ferdinand,
I said, silently.

– You fucking swallowed me! I hate you, Arnie!

Quickly I put down my mug, got off the stool and ran back through the crowd towards the men’s room, well, maybe what with my sore knee I didn’t exactly “run”, but I hobbled quite quickly, as a man does who has been sitting drinking beer for a couple of hours and who suddenly realizes he needs urgently to micturate before he wets himself sitting right there at the bar on his stool. 

All the way to the men’s room Ferdinand continued to curse me, and I really couldn’t blame him.

I pulled open the door to the john, went in, and immediately pushed open the door to the one toilet stall, which fortunately was unoccupied.

I knelt down in front of the stained and yellowed toilet bowl, sore knee or no sore knee, the seat was already up, the rim of the bowl was speckled with urine and tobacco ashes, and the water in the bowl was yellow with urine as well, with one lone cigarette butt floating in it – all the better to make myself sick I thought, and so without further ceremony I stuck three fingers into my throat, and within just a few seconds I successfully vomited that last gulp of beer, and some of the beer I had drunk earlier, and even bits of my long-ago breakfast of weisswurst and eggs, and, of course – and most importantly – Ferdinand, who rode this geyser out of me  and into the toilet bowl, screaming and cursing bloody murder all the way, but now I didn’t mind his screams and his curses, because dead flies neither curse and nor do they scream, except perhaps in the afterworld.

(Continued here, damning the torpedoes and full steam ahead.)

(Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a possibly acceptably-current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven™. Now appearing simultaneously in the
Collingswood Patch™: “All the news that’s fit to print, and Arnold Schnabel too.”)

Friday, September 6, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 362: realization

Let’s return to that bohemian hotspot the San Remo Café, at the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal in Greenwich Village, where our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend Ferdinand the fly have encountered no less a literary notable than Ernest “Papa” Hemingway...

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you’ve finally given up all hope of doing anything worthwhile with your life then you may click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 79-volume memoir.)

“Sing his name boldly, sing it loud and sing it proudly, sing the name of a humble former railroad brakeman, the finest and most noble writer this country has yet produced and probably ever will  produce – that name of course is ‘Arnold Schnabel’.” — Harold Bloom, commencement address at Olney Community College, Philadelphia PA; June 6, 2013. (Reprinted in slightly shortened form in
The Olney Community College Zephyr.)

Finally he took the great stein from his lips and emitted a great sigh. He let the lid of the stein close, laid it down on the bar, and then wiped his mouth and its adjacent whiskers with the back of his big hairy hand.

He took a drag on his big cigar, staring at me all the while.

My leg ached, the right one, the same one, the pain had not mysteriously shifted from one leg to the other. I wished I had a stool to sit on. There was an empty stool behind Hemingway, but he wasn’t using it. I had met guys like this before, who would never sit at a bar, who always had to stand, at least until they fell over. I leaned my forearm against the edge of the bar, to take some of the weight off my leg.

“You’re probably wondering why I introduced myself,” said Hemingway suddenly.

Actually I hadn’t been, I had gone way past wondering why anyone did whatever they did, I had only been hoping that the bartender would come over and ask me what I wanted to drink, but I didn’t say any of this.

“Um, yes,” is what I did say.

“I’ll tell you why,” said Hemingway. “It was because of your raffish attire and general bohemian appearance. The blue jeans with the rumpled seersucker jacket and the plaid shirt. The unpolished work shoes, the unshaven jaw and the decidedly unmilitaristic haircut, or should I say lack of one. Am I to assume, sir, that you are a member of the artistic fraternity?”

There was no use denying it.

“Yes,” I said. “I am a poet.”

“Not a novelist?”

“No,” I said. “Just a poet.”

“What kind of poet if I may be so bold as to ask.”

“Epic, I’m afraid.”

“The epic poet is the novelist of poets.”

“Yes, I guess that’s true,” I said.

“However,” he said, “the novelist is not necessarily the poet of fiction writers.”

I suddenly felt a deep wave of boredom billowing up within me, which took physical manifestation in the form of an irrepressible yawn, which I did my best to disguise by pretending to cough, and by holding my hand over my mouth.

“You’re not a lunger, are you?” said Hemingway.

“I’m sorry, a what?” I said.

“A consumptive, a tubercular.”

“Not that I know of,” I said.

“Used to know lots of lungers back in the old days, in Paris. Especially among the poets.”

“It’s just all the smoke in here I think,” I said.

I faked a couple of half-hearted coughs for good measure.

Hemingway took another pull on his cigar, and let the smoke out slow.

“Paris,” he said. “Oh, yes, I was young, like you, and handsome, like you, beating off les jeunes filles with a stick I needn’t tell you. But then I suppose it’s the same for you, isn’t it Patrick?”

“Pardon me?” I said, and I could hear Ferdinand snickering again in my ear.

“The young ladies,” said Hemingway. “You have to beat them off with a stick I’ll bet.”

“Well, not a stick exactly,” I said.

“Ha ha. Modest. I like that. No one likes a braggart. Well, take my advice, Paul, get all the screwing in that you can now while you’re young, and able, and before you have to start shelling out your hard-earned francs and sous for it. And before you’re old, and unable.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Would you like me to give you some more advice?” he said.

I didn’t want his advice. I wanted him to leave me alone.

“Sure,” I said.

“Write your poetry as if the cold wind of the Arctic is blowing up your ass. Write as if the fires of hell are breathing into your throat. Write also as you would make love to a woman, tenderly, but firmly and with vigor, always letting her know who’s boss. Write as if you were eating a rare charbroiled steak after a long day at the corrida watching the bulls die bravely and in agony. Write as if each word you write is to be etched on your tombstone. Do you have all that?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Write as you would drink from a great stein of beer. Like this one in fact.”

He lifted the great engraved stein up once again, thumbed back its lid, and drank, again. This was a really big stein, by the way, I would say it held a quart at least. Once again little streams of beer flowed into his whiskers, and then he separated the stein from his face, closed its lid, put the stein back down and stared at me.

“Damn that was good,” he said. 

His eyes were a deep muddy brown where they weren’t pink, brown fading into a filmy black in their pupils, and these eyes stared at me, or at least in my direction. The whiskers surrounding his mouth glistened with beer in a way that was not pleasant. 

“They say the first one is the best,” he said, “and the first one is good, but there is something to be said for the twelfth one also, when one’s mind teeters on the very edge of a great realization, and do you know what that realization is, Peter?”

“Arnold,” I said.

“Wait,” he said, didn’t you say it was Peter? Or Patrick?”

“Well, actually, I said it was Porter,” I said. “In this universe. In my own universe it’s Arnold, so I guess Porter is to be preferred here, actually.”


“Yes,” I said.

“Oh, Christ,” said Ferdinand, in my ear.

“I just heard that weird sound again,” said Hemingway. “But it was a different weird sound. Like a tiny voice.”

Ferdinand began laughing again, that hissing laughter of his. It was pretty annoying, really, especially as it was emanating from within my ear.

“Now I hear that other strange sound,” said Hemingway. “As if all the life of the universe were hissing through a hole in the fabric of existence to dissipate in the black reaches of interstellar space. You don’t hear that?”

I was tempted to tell him about Ferdinand, sorely tempted, but I just didn’t want to get in a big discussion if I could help it. So I blatantly lied.

“I don’t hear anything,” I said.

“You’re sure.”

“Just the noise of the bar all around us.”

“The noise of the bar. The juke box. The laughing chattering and shouting people.”

“Yes,” I said.

“What was I saying? Before I went off on this latest tangent.”

Ferdinand snickered again, but not so loudly this time.

“I think you were saying something about your mind teetering on the edge of a great realization, after the twelfth beer.”

“During the twelfth beer.”

“During,” I said.

“Yes. And do you want to know what that realization is?”

“Do we have a choice?” said Ferdinand.

“What?” said Hemingway. “Did you hear that?”

“No,” I said. “So, Mr. Hemingway –”


“Papa,” I said. “Tell us.”

Us? What do you mean, ‘Tell us’? It’s just you and me here.”

“Right,” I said. “I meant tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“About the great realization. On the twelfth beer.”

“The realization.”

“Yes,” I said. “I mean if you want to.”

“The realization,” he said. “The realization on the twelfth beer.”

“Right,” I said.

“The realization that we are here for only a certain number of moments, a seemingly endless series of moments, but they are not endless, for one day they will cease.”

“That’s his big realization?” said Ferdinand.

“I heard a voice again,” said Hemingway. “A tiny but persistent voice. You didn’t hear it?”

“Uh,” I said.

“Oh, God,” he said. “It’s coming from within my own brain then. This is it. The final onslaught of madness.”

Now I felt sorry for him.

“Look,” I said, “Mr. Hemingway –”


“Papa,” I said.

“What,” he said.

“It’s not you,” I said. “It’s me. There’s a fly in my ear. A talking, sentient fly. So don’t feel bad, because you’re not going insane. I would like to introduce you to him. His name is Ferdinand.”

“What the fuck,” said Hemingway.

Ferdinand obligingly flew out of my ear, buzzed around my head, and then stopped to hover approximately midway between Hemingway’s face and mine.

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Hemingway,” said Ferdinand. “Or may I call you Papa. And I would gladly shake your great manly mitt if only I had a hand per se. As I do not, allow me only to say I am a great admirer of your work.”

“So I am going mad,” said Hemingway.

“However,” said Ferdinand, “I have to say that for me your best stuff remains the early short stories, and The Sun Also Rises, despite a regrettable strain of anti-semitism in the latter work.”

Hemingway simply stared at Ferdinand for maybe thirty seconds. And then he said, “Oh, God.”

“Oh, God what?” said Ferdinand. “A guy can’t have an opinion?”

“Oh God in heaven,” said Hemingway.

“I thought you didn’t believe in God,” said Ferdinand.

“I must go now,” said Hemingway. “I must go into the men’s room and splash cold water on my face and on the back of my neck. And then I must stare into the mirror and pray to a God in whom I do not believe, I must pray to him that this present bout of insanity will pass.”

“Hey, I was only giving you my opinion, Papa,” said Ferdinand. “Don’t get so bent out of shape. I never claimed to be no literary critic.”

“Dear God,” said Hemingway. “Dear God in hell.” He picked up his stein, and with his cigar in his other hand, he turned and staggered off away from the bar, in the direction of the rest rooms.

– Well, he was touchy,
said Ferdinand, communicating telepathically again.

It’s only to be expected, I thought.

– Can’t even take a little criticism, thought Ferdinand. From a fly.

“Can I help you, sir?” said a gruff loud voice. 

It was a bartender. A big, Italian-looking bartender, with a build like Wallace Beery’s but with a face like J. Carroll Naish’s.

“Yes, I’ll have a mug of draft beer,” I said, “any kind.”

“What happened to Papa?” he said.

“He went to use the men’s room.”

“Took his stein with him?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Afraid somebody’s gonna steal it,” he said.

“Maybe,” I said.

“Or take a drink out of it.”

“Possibly,” I said.

“Spit in it maybe.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” I said.

“You don’t know the bums come in here,” he said. “Writers. Novelists. You a writer?”

“Well, only a poet,” I said.

“Poets are the worst,” he said. “I’ll get you your beer.”

He went away towards the beer taps.

– Hey, Arnie, said Ferdinand’s voice in my brain. Grab papa’s stool before someone else does. Take a load off, pal.

Hemingway was gone, who knew for how long. I pulled the stool a little closer to the bar and sat down. It felt good to sit.

Ferdinand buzzed in merry curlicues before me.

– Oh boy oh boy oh boy, said Ferdinand’s silent voice. Can’t wait for this beer!

It didn’t take much to make that fly happy.

(Continued here, unremittingly.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page for a current listing of links to all other officially-authorized chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven™. Now appearing also in the Collingswood Patch™: “South Jersey’s last small piping voice of freedom.”)