Friday, October 25, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 369: Henry

Our hero Arnold Schnabel (accompanied by his new friends Bill Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and “Papa” Hemingway, as well as his old friend Ferdinand the fly) – has just opened the door to that very exclusive basement saloon called “Valhalla”, here on Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street, on this hot and rainy night in August of 1957...

(Kindly click here to read our previous thrilling episode; go here if for some inexplicable reason you want to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)

“As the cold weather approaches what better way to spend an evening than sitting by the fire with a pipe, a bottle of Jamaica rum, and a volume of Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling masterwork.” — Harold Bloom, in
Today’s Golfer.

The place looked just as crowded and noisy as when I had last come in here, a year ago, or, no, earlier this same night, and, no again, what am I saying, it was even more crowded and much more noisy, and more hot, and more thick with smoke and smell, the smells of tobacco, and marijuana too, and sweat and perfume, and another smell, the smell of concupiscence. 
A mob of people were all dancing to rock and roll on the jukebox, I think the song was “Mystery Train” by Elvis Presley, but I could well be wrong, as I am not au courant with that particular genre of music, unlike, say, the sort of repertoire one might hear on Lawrence Welk’s TV program, which I had spent so many hours watching with my mother, in another world.

Hemingway was right behind me, and now he grabbed my right arm and came up beside me.

“This isn’t quite what I expected,” he yelled in my ear.

“Yes, well, uh,” I said. What else could I say? How should I have known what he expected? As for myself, I had long given up on seriously entertaining any sort of expectations at all because what was the point when the unexpected so invariably happened so often?

“But I like it,” he yelled, again into my ear, because it was so loud in there. “I feel the hot pulse of humanity pounding in here, just as it does in my favorite rhumba joints down in Havana. I also smell reefer.”

Jack had come in behind us and he put both his hands on my waist and gave me a little shove.

“If they say anything just tell them I have a new novel coming out next month,” he yelled at me, his lips almost touching the back of my right ear.

Bill had come up on my left side, and he grabbed my arm.

“And I’m working on a really, really groundbreaking novel,” he yelled in his turn. “Tell them that. Even though I don’t have a publisher quite yet.”

“Listen, guys,” I said, or yelled, and I admit, I was getting a little annoyed at everyone handling me and yelling at me, but then I was in a cranky mood from almost being crushed in the wet street by Hemingway’s huge body, and I think I might have had a mild concussion. “Listen, just take it easy, okay?” I swiveled my head from right to left, to address both Bill and Hemingway, and I twisted around a bit so that Jack could see I was talking to him too. “No one here cares,” I said. “Can’t you see they’re all drunk?”

“We were only suggesting,” said Jack.

“Yeah, just thought it might help,” said Bill.

“I think Porter may be right, fellows,” said Hemingway. “And anyway, I think this may be one of those places where it’s who you know that’s what really matters, because I got to tell you they didn’t seem none too impressed with me when I tried to get in here before, and I won the goddamn Nobel Prize.”

“As you keep reminding everyone,” said Ferdinand, who was now buzzing around my head.

“Well, it’s true,” said Hemingway.

“Why don’t you just wear your goddamn Nobel Prize medal on a ribbon around your neck so everybody will know.”

“Well, maybe I would at that, but you’re talking about a 23 carat gold piece. What if some hooligans decided to knock me over the head and steal it?”

“Oh, Jesus,” said Ferdinand.

But then that fat bald guy Mr. James suddenly pushed through the mob of dancing people and stumbled up to me. 

“Well, well, well, Mr. Walker, and where have you been?”

“Well, it’s a long story, Mr. James,” I said.

“What? What’s boring?”

“Boring?” I said.

“Yes, what’s so boring?”

“Nothing’s boring,” I shouted, although this was. “I said it’s a long story!”

“Long story?” said Mr. James.

“Yes!” I said (or shouted, or hollered – I guess I’ll just ask my nonexistent reader to assume that everyone is shouting for the time being, or at least until my narrative takes me out of this noisy barroom, if it ever does). “It’s a long story, Mr. James.”

“Call me Henry,” he said.

“Okay. Henry,” I said.

“And I, avec votre permission, shall call you Porter,” he said.

He had the stub of a cigar in his hand, and he put it in his mouth and then took my right hand in both of his soft pudgy hands, the only sort of hands he had, so that I now had a total of at least six male hands touching me, which is six more than I prefer at best. 

By the way, I could see that Henry was extremely drunk now, although I could also see that he was one of those drunks who likes to try to disguise their drunkenness, but who fail. He had lost or taken off his stiff wing collar, and his bow tie was completely untied, although the diamond pin was still stuck in it.

“You’re all wet and disheveled, Porter,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s started to rain again, and I fell in the street, and, uh –”

He suddenly seemed to become aware all at once of the other three men who were with me, who were hanging onto me as if for dear life.

“Hey, are these fellows trying to get in with you?”

He let go of my hand and took the cigar out of his mouth. He looked from Hemingway to Bill. I couldn’t know for sure, but I got the impression that Jack was trying to hide behind me.

“Hey, you, behind Porter, what are you doing back there? Trying to sneak in?”

“Me?” said Jack’s voice.

“I see you back there.”

“I’m with Porter,” said Jack.

“Me too,” said Hemingway. “You must know who I am, I’m –”


“I said you must know who I am,” Hemingway yelled.

“Nice briefcase you’ve got there,” said Henry.

“Oh, this?” said Hemingway, holding up the briefcase in the hand he wasn’t hanging onto my arm with. “Yes, it was made for me by a little man back in Havana, a noble brown man who works silently and patiently with the fine soft leather, who –”

Henry pointed at Bill with his cigar.

“You. At least you’re dressed like a gentleman. What’s your name?”

“William S. Burroughs, sir,” Bill yelled, leaning forward, and putting one hand to the side of his mouth as a sort of partial megaphone.

“You’re not Edgar Rice Burroughs. I know Edgar Rice Burroughs. In fact he’s in here tonight. Don’t get wise with me, pal.”

“No, sir,” yelled Bill, leaning even closer to Mr. James. “I said William S. Burroughs! Of the St. Louis Burroughses?”

“St. Louis Burroughses?”

“Yes, sir,” said Bill.

“Adding machine people.”

“Yes, sir, my grandfather –”

“Okay,” said Henry, cutting him off. “What about you, the merry woodsman, trying to hide behind Porter there?”

“Jack Kerouac, sir,” yelled Jack, and he came around to my right, trying to shove in between me and Hemingway, but Hemingway wouldn’t take his hand off my arm, just as Bill still hung onto my other arm.

“You say you’re a lumberjack?”

“No, sir,” yelled Jack. “Kerouac is my name. Jack Kerouac!”

“And are you a lumberjack, sir, or perhaps a drover, or a telegraph lineman.”

“No, sir,” said Jack, “I’m a novelist.”

“A communist?”

“No, sir, a novelist! I write novels! I’m a –”


“Yes, sir.”

“Ah,” said Henry. “A proletarian novelist I suppose, judging by your attire.”

“Well, actually I like to think of myself as more of a mystical, seeking, wandering-soul sort of novelist. You see, I have this new book coming out, and –”

“Porter,” said Mr. James, interrupting Jack and speaking directly to me, “are these fellows trying to take advantage of your good nature?”

“No!” said Hemingway. “He’s our friend. We’re his friends. Tell him Porter, tell him –”

“Listen, big man,” said Henry. “I am addressing Mr. Walker. And I believe he is more than capable of speaking for himself.”

“Sorry,” said Hemingway. “But I was just –”

Suddenly the bartender joined us. He had his right hand in his trousers pocket, and I wondered if he had a set of brass knuckles in it, or maybe a leather sap.

“Any trouble here, Mr. James?”

“That’s precisely what I am trying to ascertain, Mr. London.”

“No trouble here,” said Hemingway. 

“I’ll be the judge of that,” said Henry.

“Porter,” said Hemingway, “tell him you’re with us. I mean that we’re with you.”

“Well, look, Mr. James –” I said.

“Henry,” he said. “Henry to you, Porter.”

“Okay,” I said. “Henry. Look, I really just wanted to stop in and see if my friend Josh is still here.”

“You were just joshing you say?”

“No,” I yelled, leaning closer to him, or as close as I could lean, with Hemingway and Bill still holding onto my arms. “Josh! I’m looking for my friend Josh! I just wanted to have a word with him!”

“Oh!” said Henry. “You’re looking for your nice friend Josh?”

“Yes!” I said.

“And so these fellows are not with you?”

“No!” I bellowed. “I mean, yes, I guess they are!”

“They’re with you?”


“Thank you, Porter,” said Hemingway.

“Yeah, thanks, man,” said Jack.

“Good looking out, buddy,” said Bill.

“I told you,” said Hemingway, to Henry.

“So Josh is still here, right?” I said, yelled, screamed.

“Josh isn’t queer,” said Henry. “At least not that I know of.”

“No,” I called down from the hills, “I’m asking, is Josh still here?”

“If he’s queer he’s got a funny way of showing it,” said Henry.

“He’s no queer,” said the bartender. “You see him with that girl, that dark-haired babe?”

“I saw him,” said Henry. “He didn’t seem queer to me.”

“Listen,” I bellowed, so loud that my voice broke, “I didn’t say he was queer. I asked if he is here.”

“Your friend Josh?” said Henry.

“Yes,” I croaked. “Josh. Is he here?”

“Is Josh still here?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, breathing deeply.

“Oh, no,” said Henry. “Josh left.”

“Josh left,” I said, or squeaked.

“Just a little while ago,” said Henry. “You just missed him.”

“Oh,” I said.

“But he left a message for you.”

“For me?”

“In case you came back.”

“Great,” I said.

“You want to hear it?”

“Yes, please.”

“In front of these fellows?”

He meant of course Jack and Bill, and Hemingway.

“Sure,” I said. “It doesn’t matter.”

“It’s kind of personal.”

“Please tell me,” I said.

“He said to tell you he was going home with Carlotta. And he said to ask you not to be mad at him.”

“Wait, excuse me,” said Hemingway. “But who’s this Josh guy?”

“Yeah, I was wondering that too,” said Jack.

“Yeah, me too,” said Bill.

“Who is he?” said Hemingway.

“Son of God,” said Ferdinand, finally chiming in, flying lazily around above all our heads.

(Continued here,  and until the last marble copybook filled with Arnold’s small but neat script has been faithfully transcribed.)

Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what a listing of links to all or most other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Now appearing also in the Collingswood Patch™: “Not just another small-town rag.”)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 368: down

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his raffish companions here on Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street, on a fateful and  rainy night in August of 1957...

(Please go here to read our preceding episode; in case you are a recently-retired senior citizen and are in an absolute quandary about what to do with all your newfound free time you may click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“The closer I advance to the end of my span on this earth, it seems the less inclined I am to read anything else but Arnold Schnabel’s magnificent
chef-d'œuvre.” — Harold Bloom, in Man’s Adventure magazine.

“Oh, Christ,” said Ferdinand, sitting in my ear, “will ya look at the size of that big ape running across the street.”

He was referring of course to Hemingway, who now carried a briefcase under one arm, and who still had his cigar in one hand.

“Wait up, you guys!” he yelled.

A cab came down MacDougal, on a trajectory and at a speed which would quite possibly have caused it to run down the famous author.

“Oh, shit,” said Ferdinand.

“Uh-oh,” said Bill.

“Look out,” said Jack, but more in an observational way than as a warning.

The cab driver put his hand to his horn, but Hemingway forged ahead, either not hearing the blare of the horn or not caring.

The cab driver slammed on his brakes, but the car skidded forward straight at the Nobel Prize winner.

I’m not sure exactly how the following happened, but I bolted into the street and performed a flying tackle on Hemingway, and he twisted and struggled with me as I did so, causing us to spin around together so that it was my back which landed on the wet hard street, with Hemingway on top of me, his great hairy chest slamming into my face and causing the back of my head to strike the asphalt like a hammer banging a gong, and in the resulting wave of pain I braced myself for the added shock of the cab running over the both of us, thereby abruptly ending my little life’s adventure, but the very fact that I’m writing this right now should be proof enough that this did not happen. The cab swerved past our bodies, I felt both the left front tire and then the rear tire brushing the tips of my work shoes, and I heard the shouted imprecations of the driver, “Fucking idiots” was one of the things he shouted, and continued to shout as he roared on down MacDougal Street and away.

Hemingway was very heavy. He was very heavy and his hairy great chest smelled of sweat and cigars and beer and rum.

He pushed himself up off me a little bit, on his elbows.

“That was a close shave,” he said. “You okay, buddy?”

“I think so,” I said, from miles away and with another man’s voice. “But you’re very heavy.”

“Oh, sorry, pal.”

By this time Jack and Bill had come over, and they each grabbed one of Hemingway’s arms and got him to his feet. His beret had fallen off. Jack picked it up and handed it to him.

“Your beret, sir."

“Why, thank you, young fella,” said Hemingway, and he screwed the beret back onto his head.

He had also dropped his briefcase. Bill picked it up and handed it to him.

“Nice briefcase, sir,” said Bill.

“It is a writer’s briefcase,” said Hemingway, “tooled of the finest Spanish leather, custom-made for me by a little man in Havana. Pablo is his name, a wizened old man with skin as smooth and brown as the leather he works and cuts with his strong and wiry old hands, the veins on the backs of which are like dark rivers in which the wise old trout leap and strike at first dawn.”

“People look at a briefcase like that, they know you mean business,” said Jack.

“They do indeed,” said Hemingway. “My name is Hemingway, by the way, Ernest Hemingway. Perhaps you’ve heard of me.”

“We have indeed, sir,” said Bill, “and we are both great admirers of your work.”

“That’s true,” said Jack. “Love your work, man.”

“Thank you. There are others here I’m afraid who do not share your opinions of my modest scribblings,” said Hemingway.

“Now wait a minute, Mr. Hemingway,” said Ferdinand, buzzing around up there in the gentle rain, he must have wisely flown out of my ear when I had leapt out into the street, “all’s I said was I preferred your earlier books. Is that a crime?” 
“Okay,” said Hemingway, “but how about this? You try knocking out those early stories and a groundbreaking novel like The Sun Also Rises when you’re still in your twenties, and then you see if you can keep up that kind of quality when you’re old and all beat the fuck up.”

“Oh, Christ,” said Ferdinand, “forget I said anything, all right?”

“My name’s Jack, by the way,” said Jack. “Jack Kerouac. I’m a novelist too. And this is my friend Bill, Bill Burroughs.”

“William S. Burroughs, Mr. Hemingway,” said Bill. “Very pleased to make your acquaintance. And I too am a novelist.”

“Call me Papa, boys,” said Hemingway.

They all shook hands. I was still lying there on my back in the wet street, the light drizzling rain falling in my face.

“Hey, I owe you a drink there, pal,” said Hemingway, to me.

“Thanks,” I said. 

“Perhaps a frozen daiquiri,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “I think I’ll just shut my eyes a moment.”

And I did, and I passed out. I passed out, but I was not in a state of complete unconsciousness. I was dreaming, and instead of lying in pain in the middle of MacDougal Street in the rain, in someone else’s body, in someone else’s world, instead of all that I was back in my own world, in my own body, and not in pain, and best of all I was in Elektra’s bed, which was the softest bed I had ever been in and she was leaning over me, her face over mine, her brown eyes smiling if eyes can smile, and her lips opened, and her breath smelled of geraniums and lemons and she spoke but her words were in a language I didn’t speak, and I said, “Pardon me?” And she spoke again in the foreign language and I still didn’t understand the words, but she was smiling and so I didn’t care. I could feel her breasts on my chest, and then nuzzling my face, and her breasts smelled like vanilla cookies still warm from the oven and then, too bad for me, I awoke.

I was standing, in the street, in MacDougal Street, in the gentle rain, and someone held each of my arms, and Hemingway stood before me.

“He’s okay,” he said. “Just got the wind knocked out of him.”

I saw that it was Jack holding my left arm, and Bill my right.

“Here comes another goddam cab,” said Hemingway. “Better get him out of the street.”

He turned and walked toward the sidewalk, limping only slightly, and Jack and Bill frogmarched me behind him. I felt exactly as I should have felt I suppose, which is as if a two-hundred-and-forty pound man had collapsed onto me and flattened me in the street. My right knee hurt almost as much as it ever had this evening, and now my head hurt in two places rather than one. But I was alive.

“Hey, you guys want a cab for your friend?” yelled a voice.

I looked over my shoulder. This new cabdriver had stopped his taxi and he was leaning down so he could look at us out of his passenger window.

“Oh, no, thank you,” said Hemingway. “He’s fine.”

“He don’t look fine.”

“He merely took a cropper in the street,” said Hemingway. “He’ll be okay after he gets outside a frozen daiquiri or two.”

“Hey, ain’t you whatsisname?”

“Why yes, ha ha, I suppose I am,” said Hemingway.

“Orson Welles,” said the cabdriver.

“I am not Orson Welles.”

“Burl Ives I mean.”

“Nor am I Burl Ives. I am –”

“Monty Wooley. You’re Monty Wooley. The Man Who Came to Dinner.”

“Look, we don’t need a cab, so good night.”

“No need to get nasty Mr. Wooley.” The driver put his car in gear. “You ain’t that big a movie star.”

He drove off, and we continued to the sidewalk. When we got there Hemingway turned to face me and the other two fellows, who kept ahold of my arms.

“These guys don’t read,” he said. “That’s the problem with the common man. You can write about them and their lives and their noble hopeless struggle all you want, but they still don’t read your goddamn books.”

No one said anything, although Ferdinand made a buzzing sound as he flew around us.

“Shit, and I lost my cigar,” said Hemingway, looking at his empty right hand. “But no worries, I got a box of them in here.” He patted his briefcase. It looked like soft leather, a light brown, and it was the kind with a buckle instead of snaps. “I’ll share them with you guys. You like cigars? They’re fine good Cubans, Cohibas.” 

“I wouldn’t say no to a fine cigar,” said Bill, and he flicked his cigarette into the street.”

Jack took a drag of his own cigarette, and then flicked it off into the street as well.

“The noble cigar of the warm Cuban nights,” he said. “The patient calm peone family in their little shack, rolling cigars together, thinking not of time and of death but only of the next cigar to be rolled, in endless succession, the noble cigar redolent of the rich peasant earth.”

“Me, I love a good Cuban,” said Ferdinand, who flew around in a slow orbit around my head.

“I’ll bet you do, little fella,” said Hemingway. “I’ll bet you do.” He wiped the raindrops from his forehead with the back of his great hairy arm and looked at me. “Doesn’t a nice Cuban cigar sound good, Porter, or Arnold, or whatever it is?”

“I’ve mivven up mogen,” I said.


“Niven nup zmogen,” I said.

“Can’t understand a word you’re saying.”

“He says he’s given up smoking,” said Ferdinand.

“Oh,” said Hemingway.

“Wants to live to a ripe old age,” said my friend the fly.

“Don’t know why,” said Hemingway. “I’m only fifty-eight and I already feel like death coated with stale cow shit. But each to his own. Hey, you really think you can get us into this Valhalla joint?”

“Magga go,” I said.


“He says he don’t know,” said Ferdinand, “but don’t worry, they love Arnie in that place.”

“All right, what’s his name?” said Hemingway. “Arnold or Porter?”

“Maggo,” I said.


“Porter,” said Ferdinand. “We better stick to Porter.”

“Porter it is then. Let’s go. You’d better go first, Porter, since you’re the one with all the drag in this establishment.”

“Ogay,” I said.

“Help him down the steps there, fellas, and don’t let him fall.”

So Bill and Jack helped me over to the areaway outside the Valhalla, and took me down the steps, and Hemingway followed us.

“All right,” said Hemingway. “Turn him around just a sec, boys.”

Jack and Bill turned me around so that I was facing Hemingway.

“Talk to  me,” he said.

“’ello,” I said.

“Say a complete sentence.”

“Gomplete zentence?”

“You sound better. That’s good. We don’t want them to think you’re tight. If they think you’re tight they may not let even you in. Count to three.”

“One, two,” said.

“Three,” he said. “Come on, Porter, you can do it, from the top. Count to three.”

“One, two,” I said.

“Three,” he said.

“Three,” I said.

“Better,” he said. “Much better. Can you stand on your own?”

“I think so,” I said. “But – but –”

“But what? What’s the catch.”

“I – I hurt,” I said.

“You hurt? Where do you hurt?”

“My, my leg, my, my back, my, my head –”

“Let me ask you a question, Porter.”


“You ever been run over by a stampeding rhino?”


“You ever been in a aeroplane crash?”


“You ever been in two plane crashes in one day?”

“He already said he was never in a plane crash,” said Ferdinand.

“I’m trying to make a point here,” said Hemingway, following Ferdinand with his eyes as the fly flew around us in a figure-eight pattern. “My point being that Porter’s injuries are minor when compared to those sustained by being trampled by a raging rhino. Or crashing in an aeroplane not once but twice, in the same day. In the African jungle.”

He turned to me again, and put his great hand on my shoulder.

“You’ll be fine, son, soon as you take a load off, get a nice frozen daiquiris inside you.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“Okay, then. Take a breath, and get us in there.”

I took a breath.

“Fine. Now turn around and open the door, and remember, tell them we’re with you.”

“Okay,” I said.

Ferdinand flew in front of my face and hovered.

“Don’t worry, Arnie. Just get us in there, and I’ll take care of you. I got your back.”

“Thanks, Ferdinand,” I said.

“By the way,” said Hemingway. “No disrespect to the fly, but –”

“Hey, I got a name, big guy,” said Ferdinand.

“Yes, of course,” said Hemingway. “Felix was it?”

“Do I look like a cat?”

“No, of course not,” said Hemingway.

“My name is Ferdinand.”

“Sorry. Ferdinand,” said Hemingway. “You must forgive me. I’ve suffered numerous concussions, and my memory is not what it once was.”

“You’re forgiven. Now what was it you wanted to say?”

“I was going to suggest that it might be best if you not talk when we’re trying to get in.”

“Oh. On account of a talking fly might not be good enough for this joint?”

“Well, it’s just that I know it’s a rather exclusive place.”

Ferdinand turned in mid air and faced me.

“Open the door, Arnie.”

“I didn’t mean any disrespect,” said Hemingway.

“Go ahead, Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “Open the door. It’s getting stuffy out here.”

I turned around and opened the door.

(Continued here, doggedly.)

Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find what is usually a current listing of links to all other legally-available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train To Heaven©. Now published also in the Collingswood Patch™: “Who says that South Jersey is a cultural wasteland?”)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 367: rain

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel and his friend Ferdinand the talkative fly here in the men’s room of the San Remo Café, where they have been joined by those soon-to-be literary giants Bill and Jack...

(Kindly click here to read our previous chapter; those who are not faint of heart may go here to return to the misty distant beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning epic.)

“I have it on good authority that our author pronounced his name to rhyme with wobble.” — Harold Bloom, from his introduction to
Arnold Schnabel: A Beginner’s Guide.

“Oh, wait,” said Bill, “let me just take a quick piss before we go.”

“Sure,” I said. What else was I going to say?

“Yeah, me too,” said Jack.

“Fine,” I said.

“Yeah, take your time, fellas,” said Ferdinand, with a hint of sarcasm in his voice as he merrily zoomed around my head, well, who am I to say he was zooming merrily, he was a fly after all, but it’s too late now, let the adverb stand, especially as no one will ever read this, least of all me. But suddenly he stopped and hovered in front of my face.

“What about you, Arnie?”

“What about me?” I said.

“You want to take a whiz before we split?”

“Well, I’m not sure if I have to go yet,” I said.

“Arnie, may I just remind you of what you went through the last time you tried to take a pee? The heartache, the tribulations?”

“Oh,” I said. He had a point. “Okay, I guess I could go.”

“Good, so go then, and get it over with. I’m dying of thirst over here.”

Bill and Jack were using the only two urinals, so I went into the stall, the same one I had just vomited in, and closed the door behind me, for a little privacy, not that closing the door would have stopped Ferdinand from joining me if he had a mind to.

I had left the lid up, and now, thank God, or Josh, or no one, the vomit had almost entirely disappeared down the pipes, and only a few stray bits and strands of organic matter floated in the bowl. I sighed, as I am wont to do, unzipped my fly and took out my purported organ of reproduction. As I waited for my bladder to cooperate I wondered how many hours of my life I had spent doing what I was now doing, or attempting to do. A thousand hours? Ten thousand? I was no good at math, but suffice it to say it had been a large chunk out of my life, perhaps a larger chunk than for most people when one considered all the beer I had drunk in my time.

Before long, and despite how voluminously I had thrown up not five minutes ago, liquid began to flow from me and into the bowl, and I was happy, and not just because of the physical sensation, but because for once no one was trying to talk to me or to bother me.

Or so I thought, because as I stared down into the bowl I saw a face within the disturbed liquid therein, a smiling, pale, dark-eyed and mustachioed face, and it was the face of Lucky, sometimes known as Nicky, and doubtless known by thousands of other names: my nemesis, the prince of darkness. Somehow his whole head had gotten into the toilet bowl, just under the surface of the water which I was now mixing with urine, and he was looking up at me and into my eyes.

“Hello, Arnold,” he said, in his familiar voice, which seemed to originate somewhere near the center of the innermost dark caverns of my brain. “Yes, it’s me. You really didn’t think you could keep me away with your little ploy, did you? By the way, go ahead, keep urinating. To me it’s like what a gentle summer rain would be to you, or the refreshing salty spray of an ocean wave crashing on the beach. You’ve been very busy since our last meeting, haven’t you, Arnold? Having fun? Triumphing over evil and the random absurdities of existence? But somehow after all stuck again in this tacky fictional universe? Well, don’t worry, buddy, soon you’ll be free of all this, yes, good god-mighty, free at last. Down with me and my kind. And your kind. Yes, I think you might even like it there, old buddy – hey, what are you doing?”

I had reached up and grabbed the toilet handle on its chain.

“I’m flushing the toilet,” I said.

“I’m not finished talking to you, buster.”

“I don’t care,” I said.

“Okay, fine, go ahead and flush it then, but that won’t mean a thing, I’ll be back, buddy-boy, oh yes – I’ll be back, and next time it –”

I pulled the chain, the noise of several tons of ball-bearings dropped from a dive bomber onto a shanty-village of tin-roofed huts commenced, and I turned, opened the door and walked out.

Bill and Jack were standing there waiting. Bill was still smoking the cigarette he’d lit earlier, or maybe a new one, who cares, and now Jack was smoking one too. Ferdinand was drifting above both of them, breathing in the cigarette smoke.

“Okay, I’m ready,” I said.

“Ain’t you forgetting something?” said Ferdinand.

“What?” I said.

“I didn’t realize you were an exhibitionist.”

Both Bill and Jack snickered.

“I said I didn’t realize you were an exhibitionist,” said Ferdinand again, over the continuing roar from the toilet, but at least I could no longer hear Lucky’s mocking and supercilious voice.

Bill and Jack snickered again, and then Bill pointed with his cigarette in the direction of my groin, and finally I got it.

Quickly I put the awful thing away, and zipped up.

“Sorry,” I said. “All right, let’s go.”

“Hold on, ain’t you forgetting something else?” said Ferdinand.

“What?” I said. “And please, just tell me this time.”

“What? You’re not in the mood for playful banter?”

“Just tell me, Ferdinand,” I said.

“What’s the magic word.”

“Please,” I said. “Just tell me whatever it is I’m forgetting this time. Please.”

“Don’t you wash your hands after peeing?”

“Oh, right, I’m sorry,” I said. I went over to the bowl, stepping around Bill and Jack, who were blocking the way.

I turned on the taps, pumped out some soap from the wall dispenser and began to wash my hands.

“By the way,” said Bill. “Who were you talking to in there, Porter?”

“No one,” I said.

“So he talks to himself,” said Ferdinand. “That don’t make him a bad person.”

“No of course not,” said Bill. “I was merely, uh, curious.”

“Come on, let’s split,” said Jack. “I really want to check out this Valhalla joint.”

I rinsed the soap from my hands, turned off the taps, tore off a length of paper towel from the towel-thing – and why in God’s name am I saying all this? I don’t know, I really don’t. Perhaps by this painful describing of every mundane moment of my life I am attempting to transform these moments into something infinite, thereby conquering time and death, or perhaps I am merely insane. But enough, let’s get us out of that men’s room, and so we did leave after I dried my hands and crumpled up the paper prior to tossing it at the wastebasket, and this time it landed inside it and stayed inside it. Jack went to the door, opened it and went out, Bill held the door for me and I went out, limped out, my knee still hurt, the seat of my pants was still wet, I was a mess, and Bill followed me.

We headed out into that crowded noisy barroom, and I heard Ferdinand’s voice in my ear.

“Hey, seriously, you okay, buddy?”

“I guess so,” I said, silently, although Ferdinand had been speaking aloud.

“Then who were you talking to in that toilet stall?”

“You won’t believe me,” I thought.

“Arnie, I am a sentient, talking, telepathic fly, sitting in your ear. Please do not presume to tell me of all people what I will or won’t believe.”

“It was the Devil,” I said, internally.

“The Devil.”



“Right, he was in the toilet.”

“In the toilet.”

“Yes, his head was in the toilet somehow.”

“Sticking out of it?”

“No, it was under the water, and the urine.”

“Wait. Stop a minute, Arnold. Hold on.”

I stopped. We were near the entrance of the bar now. Bill and Jack had already gone out into the street.
Ferdinand flew out of my ear and hovered in front of my face.

“So his head is in the toilet bowl, while you’re pissing in it.”

“Yes. But he didn’t seem to mind. He seemed to like it.”

“He would, that guy, he would. And he don’t even have the excuse of being a fly. But I thought you got rid of him by that clever ruse of yours, sent him back to Hell.”

“So did I,” I thought. “Anyway, I flushed it, the toilet, but before I did he said he would be back.”

“To get you.”

“Yes,” I said.

“To drag you down to Hell.”


“He’s really got a bee in his bonnet about you.”

“I know,” I said.

“What’s his problem?”

“I can’t answer that,” I said.

“Y’know what I think it is, Arnie?”

“No,” I said.

“He’s jealous,” he said.


“Jealous of you, and your pal. ‘Josh’.”

“Oh,” I said.

“That’s his fucking problem.”

“I see,” I said.

“You ask me,” said Ferdinand. “In a nutshell.”

“Well, maybe you’re right,” I said.

“I fucking know I’m right.”

Someone touched my arm.

I turned, and it was Hemingway. He had his lit cigar in one hand, but he didn’t have that big beer stein with him at the moment.

“Excuse me,” said Hemingway. “No disrespect.”

“Yes?” I said.

“I take it you’re conversing with your, uh, fly again.”

“Oh,” I said. “I didn’t realize I was speaking aloud.”

“You were,” said Ferdinand. But now he was communicating telepathically. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but you were, Arnie.”

“I only mention it,” said Hemingway (and I gathered he couldn’t hear what Ferdinand was communicating to me, I suppose that the fly and I were on some sort of private mental wavelength, I didn’t know how these things worked), “because the bartender over there, big Vinny? He saw you talking to yourself, or at least looking like you were talking to yourself. He asked me if I knew you and I said I did. And he told me to tell you that if you were going to stand here talking to yourself then you’d better leave before he throws you out. Whether you’re a friend of mine or not.”

“Well, thank you, Mr. Hemingway,” I said. “But we were just leaving anyway.”

“Call me Papa. I told you that. Papa.”

“Papa,” I said.

“Where you going?” he lowered his voice and glanced at Ferdinand, who was just hovering there, listening to our conversation. “You and the fly.”

“Just to another bar,” I said.

“Oh yeah? Which one? Kettle of Fish? Minetta Tavern? Village Vanguard?”

“It’s called the Valhalla,” I said.

“Not the Valhalla,” he said. “Basement joint? Just up the block?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Forget it. Nobody gets in the Valhalla. Trust me, I know. They won’t even let me in there. Me, a Nobel Prize winner.” 

“They let Arnold in there,” said Ferdinand. “I mean Porter. Porter.

“Really?” said Hemingway, looking at Ferdinand.

“Really,” said Ferdinand.

Hemingway now looked at me again.

“They really let you in there.”

“Yes,” I said. “But I don’t think it was on my own merit, really.”

“Yeah, but still,” said Hemingway. “Jeeze. I’m impressed.”

The door opened. It was Bill, and Jack was standing there right beside him.

“Hey, Porter,” said Bill. “What’s the hold-up, man?”

“Sorry,” I said. I turned back to Hemingway. “Well, good night, Mr. Hemingway.”


“Papa,” I said.

“Come on, Porter,” said Jack. “Let’s roll, man.”

I went through the door, and Bill closed it behind me. It had started to rain once more, but not too hard. Ferdinand flew into my ear again, he didn’t like the rain.

The four of us, Bill and Jack, and Ferdinand and I, walked over to the corner.

“Hanging out with Papa Hemingway himself I see,” said Bill.

“Well, I only just met him a short while ago,” I said.

“His day is done,” said Jack. “The time was when he wrote words that sang of the lonely courage of men and of women, of the tragedy of war and of love and of life itself, and death, black empty death which awaits us all, and also of the squirming sleek trout on the hook and the peaty taste of the Irish whisky in the cabin in the deep woods of the monosyllabic Midwest. But his time is gone.”

“That’s more or less my opinion,” said Ferdinand. “I might have phrased it differently, but let’s face it, the man is a sad old has-been.”

“Boy you guys are harsh,” said Bill.

By this time we had crossed the street, at an angle, blatantly jay-walking, in the gentle rain, and we were already almost up to the entrance to the Valhalla.

“Hey, wait up!” called a loud harsh voice behind us.

I turned, and it was Hemingway, lumbering I guess as quickly as he could across the street, in the rain.

(Continued here. We owe that much to Arnold.)

Please look to the right-hand column of this page for a rigorously updated listing of links to all other published chapters of
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Friday, October 4, 2013

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 366: Bill & Jack

Our hero Arnold Schnabel and his companion in adventure Ferdinand (the loquacious fly) have met two future literary paragons here in the men’s room of the San Remo Café, on a hot and rainy night in that momentous August of 1957...

(Please go here to read our previous episode; if you’re totally at a loss with what to do with your spare time then click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)

“Who would have suspected that this humble former brakeman – who quite freely admitted to having read practically none of the American so-called ‘canon’ – would himself create the crowning glory of that canon?” — Harold Bloom, in

“Don’t mind Jack,” said Bill. “He’s had a drop too much of the lush taken on top of some yagé tea we drank earlier this evening over at Herbie Huncke’s trap. He’ll be okay after he finishes emptying his stomach. How you doin’, anyway, Porter? You look like shit if you don’t mind my saying so.”

“Um,” I said.

Meanwhile Ferdinand had flown off of his perch on top of the mirror, and was flying back and forth above our heads in an agitated-looking figure-eight pattern.

“Christ,” he said, “as a fly I never expected to be saying this, but I am really getting sick of the smell of puke.”

“Well, okay, let’s go then,” I said.

“Hold on a second, Porter,” said Bill. He took out a pack of Old Golds, gave it a shake, and put a cigarette between his lips. “Did I just hear you conversing with that there fly?”

I sighed. I was getting tired of lying all the time, and, anyway, what did I care? This wasn’t even my world. I wasn’t even in my own body. I came to the conclusion instantaneously that in fact I didn’t care.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m talking to the fly. His name is Ferdinand by the way. Ferdinand, this is, uh, Bill.”

I didn’t know Bill’s last name, or if I had known it I had forgotten it.

“Hiya, Bill,” said the fly, hovering in front of Bill’s face.

“Wow,” said Bill. “Like, hello to you, uh, Ferdinand.”

“No need to wonder if a handshake is de rigueur, Bill,” said Ferdinand. “It is not. However, I wonder if you would let me have a toke of your cigarette smoke, that is if you intend  to light up that Old Gold which is hanging so elegantly from your thin aristocratic lips.”

“Why, yes, of course, old man,” said Bill. He took a book of paper matches out of his suit jacket pocket, tore off a match and lighted up.

“Good man,” said Ferdinand. “Now, if you don’t mind, just hold that ciggy still while I breathe in some of that delicious smoke.”

Bill held out the cigarette and Ferdinand hovered a few inches above it, directly in the thin column of smoke rising up from its end.

“Damn, that’s good,” said Ferdinand. “Thank you, sir.”

“Think nothing of it,” said Bill. “So, Porter,” he said to me, or to the version of me known as ‘Porter’, “tell me, am I hallucinating?”

“No,” I said. “That is, not unless I’m hallucinating also. Ferdinand really is a talking fly.”

“Extraordinary,” said Bill.

“At your service, sir,” said Ferdinand, “to be sure. I can see by your tailoring and tell by your accent that you are a gentleman. I am not so sure about your lumberjack friend there retching so vigorously into the sink.”

“Oh – Jack,” said Bill. “He’s no lumberjack, just a bohemian writer.”

“Oh, well, that’s okay, then,” said Ferdinand.

“In fact he has a new novel coming out next month about which we’re all very hopeful.”

“What’s it, like a noble epic about lumberjacks then?” said Ferdinand.

“Ha ha,” far from it,” said Bill. “More like a freewheeling headlong tale of restless souls motoring madly across the continent in search of experience and thrills, and, yes, spiritual exaltation.”

And enlightenment,” said Jack, in a croaking voice, still leaning over the washbasin, and grasping it with both hands.

“And enlightenment,” said Bill.

“Sounds swell,” said Ferdinand. “How you doing over there, Jack?”

Oh, Christ,” said Jack, and he heaved again into the sink. “Oh fucking hell.

“Run some water in that sink,” said Ferdinand.

“Oh, right,” said Jack, and he turned on the cold water tap.

“Well, look, Bill,” I said. “We really have to go.”

“Stick around, Porter,” said Bill. “You too, Ferdinand. I just got my remittance check from home. Let me buy you fellows a drink.”

“Sure,” said Ferdinand.

“Ferdinand,” I said. “Remember? We have to go?”

“Oh, right,” said Ferdinand. “Okay. Sorry, Bill, I guess we gotta take a rain check on that drink.”

“Where you fellas headed in such an all-fired hurry?”

“This joint called the Valhalla,” said Ferdinand. “It’s right up the –”

“The Valhalla?” said Bill.

“The Valhalla?” said Jack, who had been splashing water into his mouth and on his face. He straightened up and turned around, with the water dripping down his face and onto his lumberjack shirt.

“Yeah, the Valhalla,” said Ferdinand. “Right acrost the street and up the block a little –”

“Hey, you’re a talking fly,” said Jack. “This means I got the DTs. Mon dieu, mon dieu –”

He had been looking pretty pale to begin with, but now he went even paler, and he began to shake.

“Relax, Jack, my boy,” said Bill. “Our friend here is the real McCoy. A gen-u-wine talking fly, and not one of these cheapjack imitations neither.”

“Yeah, take it easy, pal,” said Ferdinand. “What was it the bawdy Bard wrote, there are more things in heaven and earth, Jack, than are dreamt of in your Popular Mechanics magazines.”

“Oh, my fucking God,” said Jack. 

He ran his fingers through his wet hair, staring at Ferdinand. That is he – not his fingers or his hair – stared at Ferdinand, who was still keeping his little body hovering in the thin plume of smoke trailing up from Bill’s cigarette, and seemed to be quite enjoying it, at least as far as I could tell. (To be honest, a fly is not the most expressive creature in the world, but I daresay I was beginning to know Ferdinand well enough to be able to tell when he was enjoying himself or not.)

“Hey, Jack,” said Ferdinand.

“Yes?” said Jack.

“You got stock in the water company?”

“No,” said Jack.

“Then turn off the water.”

“Oh, sorry,” said Jack, and he turned off the water tap.

“Thank you,” said Ferdinand. “I just think it’s really wasteful to waste water like that, call me old fashioned.”

“By the way, just to complete the introductions,” said Bill,  “Ferdinand, this is my friend, Mr. Kerouac, but his friends call him Jack.”

“Pleased to meet you, Jack,” said Ferdinand. “I seen you hanging around the San Remo – you too, Bill, and it’s nice finally to be innerduced.”

“So you have visited this fine establishment before?” said Bill.

“Oh, yeah, it’s my hang-out,” said Ferdinand. “Usually I’m in the men’s room here, sometimes in the ladies’. Sometimes out in the bar if I want to get a slurp of spilled beer or a whiff of tobacco smoke. It’s a nice stopping-place. Casual like, y’know? I like that. Try hanging out in one of these fancy joints uptown if you’re a fly, just try it. You’ll have a waiter snapping your ass with his fucking filthy napkin in no time.”

“Yes, I can well imagine,” said Bill.

“Well, look, Ferdinand,” I said, “we really should be moving along.”

“To the Valhalla,” said Bill.

“Yes,” I said.

“If you don’t mind my asking,” he said, “Have you ever been there before?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Wait,” said Jack. He had torn off a paper towel and was mopping his face, but now he stopped. “You’re saying they let you in the Valhalla?”

“Um, yes,” I said.

“But nobody gets in the Valhalla,” said Jack. “No one. None of the free mad yelling lost wandering souls of the blue night. No one. Not the speed-jiving parking-lot man rattling out his demotic fellaheen poetry, not the drunken Negro trumpet man with the sad eyes of the sad souls of the lost lonely streets of night, not the pale ghostly thin junkie –”

“Hey, I resemble that remark,” said Bill.

“No one gets in the Valhalla,” said Jack. He gave his face one more wipe with the paper towel, then crumpled it up and tossed it near to but not into the waste basket. Then he looked at me. “Nobody,” he said.

“And God knows we and all our friends have tried,” said Bill. “But we have always without fail been summarily turned away. How did you get in?”

“I just went in,” I said.

“Yeah, but then again,” said Ferdinand, “if I may interject: look who you went in with.”

“Oh, right,” I said. “I forgot. I went there with my friend, Josh.”

“Wait, said Bill, “you mean your pal Josh that we met here earlier today?”

“Yes, the same Josh,” I said.

“Nice guy,” said Bill.

“Big spender, that’s for sure,” said Jack.

“A very cultivated fellow, I thought,” said Bill. “And, yes, very free and easy when it came to buying the rounds. So he was the one who got you into the Valhalla.”

“Well, uh, maybe,” I said. “But, look, I’m sorry, but you see in fact I have to meet him over there, and so I’m afraid Ferdinand and I –”

“Your friend Josh is in the Valhalla right now?” said Jack.

“Well, he was a little while ago,” I said.

“Do you think he could get us in there?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I didn’t realize it was so hard to get into.”

“Hard to get into, he says,” said Jack.

“More like impossible to get into,” said Bill.

“Well, anyway –” I said.

“What’s it like in there?” said Jack. “Pretty beautiful I’ll bet right? Filled with beautiful souls, some of them singing the long mournful praises of that deep blues-wailing night that never ends. Others merely nodding their saintly stoned heads, digging it, digging everything.”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” I said.

“Can we come with?” said Bill. “We promise to behave.”

“Well, uh –” I said.

“Look,” said Ferdinand, “if - and I say if Arnold –”

“Wait,” said Jack. “Who the fuck is Arnold, man?”

“I meant to say Porter,” said Ferdinand. “Porter. Porter, Porter, Porter.”

“Okay,” said Jack. “Porter.”

“As I was saying,” said Ferdinand, “if Porter let’s you come, and I repeat, if – you fellas are not gonna embarrass him in any way, shape or form, are yez?”

“Heavens, no,” said Bill.

“What about you, Jackie boy?” said Ferdinand. “You gonna be able to drink sensibly like a grown-up without throwing up again?”

“Yes,” said Jack. “I’ll just stick to beer.”

“You need to eat something is what you need. Order a burger, some fries.”

“I will,” said Jack. “I promise. The great juicy hamburger of the American night, with cheese and fried onions, perhaps a slice of the blood-red tomato fresh from the lonesome dirt-road farms of New Jersey. Do you think they’re still serving food?”

“No idea,” said Ferdinand. “But if not then get some peanuts or pretzels.”

“Right, I’ll do that,” said Jack.

“All right then,” said Ferdinand. “I mean if it’s okay with Arnie I mean Porter here.”

“Sure. Fine,” I said.

“You mean we can come?” said Jack.

“Sure,” I said. “But, look –”

“You’re in a hurry to go,” said Ferdinand.

“Yes, I hate to rush anyone,” I said.

“So let’s go then,” said Ferdinand.

“I can’t believe we’re going to get into the Valhalla,” said Jack.

“Yeah, tell me about it,” said Bill. “They won’t even let Hemingway in that joint.”

“Hemingway’s a pretentious asshole,” said Ferdinand. “Come on, fellas, let’s roll before Arnie I mean Porter here gets any more uptight than he already is.”

(Continued here, unrelentingly.)

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