Friday, January 31, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 382: young punk

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel (trapped for the nonce in the physical form of “Porter Walker, romantic poet”) at the bar of Greenwich Village’s Kettle of Fish tavern, on a possibly endless hot rainy night in August of 1957…

(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; if you’ve finally given up all hope of an useful existence you may then but only then click here to return to the very beginning of this 53-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“Yes, I’m still snowed in, but I’m not unhappy and certainly not bored, as I spend the days smoking my meerschaum, drinking Fox’s U-bet™ hot cocoa, and reading Arnold Schnabel’s massive and, yes, massively enthralling
chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in the Maxim Literary Supplement.

“Ho-kayyy,” said Eddie, dragging out the second syllable, and he gave me a nudge with his elbow. “Pick up your beer, son.”

I put my blank book down on the bar, picked up the mug closest to me, and Eddie picked up the other one.

“May I propose a toast, gentlemen?” he said. “Bobby?”

“Oh, sorry, man,” said Bobby, who had already drunk at least a third of his Brandy Alexander. He wiped his lips with the back of his hand and put his glass down. “Toast away. Just don’t drag it out all night, don’t want my cocktail to get warm.”

“Oh, but of course,” said Eddie. “Just a brief toast.”

“We’re waiting,” said Bobby.

“A brief toast in verse, if I may,” said Eddie.

“Oh, Christ,” said Bobby. “Here we fuckin’ go.”

“May I begin?” said Eddie.

“Oh, please, do,” said Bobby.

“A brief toast, extempore, in honor of our young friend Porter.”

“Fire when ready, Gridley,” said Bobby.

“Let us raise our merry glasses,” said Eddie, raising his mug, but then he paused. “I said,” he said, ‘Let us raise our merry glasses.’”

“Oh, Christ, man,” said Bobby, “just get on with it, will you?”

“Not until you raise your glasses,” said Eddie. “It doesn’t work unless you raise your glass.”

I was anxious to move things along, and so I obediently raised my mug so that its rim was more or less level with the top of my head.

Bobby was just sitting there glaring at Eddie, his hand on the stem of his cocktail glass, and the base of the glass solidly  on the bar top.

“Bobby?” said Eddie. “Come on, man, I would do it for you.”

“I am not a simpleton like you,” said Bobby, and he took a drag on his cigarette.

“Come on, Bobby,” said Eddie. “You’re embarrassing me in front of Porter.”

Bobby finished exhaling his smoke before replying to Eddy’s remark. Then:

“And I should give a shit?” he said.

“Just lift your glass,” said Eddie. “If you lift it I’ll buy you another drink.”

“Another Brandy Alexander?”

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” said Eddie.

“Made with Courvoisier?”

“Sure, Courvoisier,” said Eddie, “although any trained bartender will tell you you’re wasting good cognac if you use it in an Alexander.”

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

“Great,” said Eddie. “Now, will you please raise your glass, if not for my sake then for the sake of young Porter here?”

“Sure,” said Bobby, and after waiting for five very long seconds, and then tapping the ash off his cigarette (which ash fell to his left thigh and then down to the toe of my right shoe) he raised his cocktail glass approximately two inches off the bar. “How’s that?”

“Great,” said Eddie. “That’s just great, Bobby. Real classy.”

“Make your toast,” said Bobby. “I’m fucking dying of thirst over here.”

“Okay then,” said Eddie. “Here goes.”

He raised his own beer mug on high, so that its bottom was above the level of his head. Even though I had been holding my own mug up already for quite some time, he gave me a look, and I raised the mug higher, even higher than his mug, anything to speed things along.

Eddie cleared his throat, paused just briefly, then began:
“Let us raise our merry glasses
to our young friend, the poet Porter.
He is not one of these brazen asses
we would not even let speak to our daughter;
nay, he is a stout young laddy
with a gift for epic poèsy,
and even if he does seem sad, he
does not mope and cry, ‘O woe is me;’
he takes it like a man, and not
with a whine, nor a churlish mumble,
but stoic, not like some Hottentot,
straight out of the primeval jungle –”

“Jesus fucking Christ, man,” interrupted Bobby, “finish the fucking toast!”

“Oh, all right,” said Eddie. “You made me lose my train  of thought anyway.” He looked at me. “Here’s to you, Porter. Welcome to the great poets’ club.”

He put his beer mug to his lips, and drank, polishing off about half of its contents. 
I put my own mug to my lips and drank also, and when I reached the halfway point I took a deep breath and drank the rest of it. Then I put the mug back on the bar, sighed, and wiped my mouth with the sleeve of my seersucker jacket.

“Thanks,” I said. “Now, about that pen or pencil.”

“I love this fuckin’ guy,” said Bobby, with a choking sound that I suppose was meant to be a laugh, or his version of a laugh.

He had drunk most of his drink, and he put the glass down and took another drag on his cigarette.

You really want a pen,” said Eddie, in a thoughtful-sounding way, but also with a slightly accusatory tone, as if I had confessed to preferring foreign movies. He took a drag on his own cigarette. It was unfiltered, and he’d smoked it down to its last inch. “Or a pencil.”

“Yes,” I said. “Either one. And I’m willing to pay.”

“I’ve got a pen on me.”

“Great,” I said. “I’ll buy it off you. I have seven dollars I think. And some change.”

He put his mug down and reached inside his suit jacket. He brought out a blue and yellow pen.

“Eversharp ballpoint,” he said. “This okay?”

“Sure, great,” I said.

“It’s a decent pen. Set me back a buck.”

“I’ll pay you full price,” I said.

He took one last drag on his cigarette and then stubbed it out in a dirty tin ashtray that was already filled with butts.

“That seems hardly fair,” he said.

“I’ll give you seven dollars for it,” I said. “Seven and some change. I might have a transit token also.”

“I meant that it’s hardly fair for me to charge you full price,” he said. “There might not even be that much ink in it.”

“I don’t care,” I said.

“What if it runs out on you in the middle of a line?”

“I’ll get another pen,” I said. “Or a pencil.”

“Love this kid,” said Bobby. He picked up his drink, drank the rest of it down, slammed the glass down. “Hey, Vito!” he yelled at the bartender who was more than halfway down the bar and obviously very busy. “Three more of the same over here, except make the Alexander with Courvoisier!”

“Wait your fucking turn, Bobby,” yelled back the bartender.

“Just don’t forget the Courvoisier, Vito, ‘cause my father here’s buying again!”

“Fuck you,” yelled Vito.

“Love that fucking guy,” said Bobby. 
“Okay, look, Porter,” said Eddie. He took another good drink from his mug, put the mug down again. “I’ll let you have the pen for seventy-five cents.”

“Great,” I said.

I reached my fingers into my jeans and searched my pockets, including the little change pocket. I came up with thirty-two cents and a New York City Transit Authority token. I laid the change and the token on the bar.

“I don’t have seventy-five in change,” I said. “I’ll just give you a dollar.”

I started to reach into my back pocket for my wallet, but Eddie grabbed my arm. 

“Cool it,” he said. “Leave us not sweat the small shit. I’ll take the thirty-two cents and the token.”

“Great,” I said. “Thanks.”

He let my arm go, and then with the back of his left hand he slid the change and the token over to his pile of bills. He held the pen out to me in his right hand. I went to grab it but he pulled it back out of my reach.

“Just one thing,” he said.

“Yes?” I said.

“One thing.”


“Promise me this.”

“Sure,” I said.

I became aware of the fact that sweat was pouring out of every pore of my body, but in fact it may have been pouring out of me at this rate ever since the last time I had noticed it.

“Promise me,” said Eddie, with a serious-looking expression on his face, as if he were tendering his condolences at a wake, “promise me that you will write well.”

“I will,” I said.

“You will promise that you will write well, or you promise that you will write well.”

“I promise I will write well,” I said.

“No one can make that promise,” yelled Bobby. “Even me. And I’m America’s most beloved poet.”

“In your mind you are,” said Eddie. And then to me: “Promise me that you will at least try to write as well as you are able.”

“Sure,” I said.

“I’m not asking you to hit the ball out of the park necessarily. But I am asking you not to go down without at least taking a swing at the ball.“ He made a swinging gesture with the pen. “If you get a good pitch that is.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Sometimes the best you can do is lay down a sacrifice bunt.”

“Sure,” I said.

“Sometimes you don’t get a good pitch. So you take a walk.”

“Right,” I said.

“But if you do take a walk, or say you get a ground ball single, don’t just stand there on first – daydreaming, thinking about cold beer, hot dogs, and warm pussy.” He paused, picked up his beer mug again, took a drink, emptying it. He put the mug back down, and then looked at me. “Stay in the game,” he said. “Keep an eye on the pitcher. Keep an eye on the ball. Steal a base if you can.”

“Right,” I said.

“And if the guy behind you gets a hit I want you to run like the wind to second base, and take third if the coach waves you on.”


“You think you can do that?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Don’t be afraid to get your uniform dirty.”

“I won’t,” I said.

“If you got to slide into a base or home plate, slide in spikes high.”

“I will,” I said.

“You will?”

“He just said he would,” said Bobby. “Fucking hell, man.”

“I will,” I said, trying not to sound too insincere.

“You’re sure?” said Eddie.

“Pretty sure,” I said.

“Okay then. Here.”

He held out the pen.

“Thank you,” I said.

I took the pen.

I had it, at last.

A pen.

Something to write with.

At last.

The bartender Vito was there again,

“Brandy Alexander,” he said, “made with Courvoisier, and two Falstaffs. Buck sevnty-five. Who’s buying.”

“I told you,” said Bobby. “My father there.”

“I got it, I got it,” said Eddie. He picked up two one-dollar bills from his pile and threw them down closer to the bartender. “Keep the change, Vito, my friend.”

Vito glared at Eddy for a moment, then took the two dollars and the empty beer mugs and the empty cocktail glass and went away.

“I think another toast is in order,” said Eddie.

“Oh, Christ,” said Bobby, “here we go again.”

“Perhaps Porter would like to make the toast this time,” said Eddie.

I put the ballpoint pen in my work-shirt pocket.

I lifted up the fresh beer mug.

“Here’s to old poets,” I said. “And young ones too. And now, gentlemen, I bid you adieu.”

I drank the beer down in about four gulps, put the empty mug down, picked up my blank book, turned, and limped away from the bar.

“Hey,” said Eddie. “Where ya going?”

“Yeah,” said Bobby. “Rude young punk.”

I said nothing, but kept going.

I had a pen, I had my blank book, and nothing was going to stop me now.

Or so I hoped.

(Continued here, and for only Josh knows how much longer, and quite possibly even he doesn’t know.)

(Please look to the right hand column of this page to find a strictly current listing of all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, brought to you this week by Fox’s U-bet© chocolate syrup; Arnold’s adventures may also be read in the Collingswood Patch™: “All the news that’s fit to print, and Arnold Schnabel too!”)

“He had seemed so terribly nice..."

“He had seemed so terribly nice at first, which only went to show how terribly wrong first impressions could be. Measures would have to be taken.” 

She Brooked No Nonsense by Horace P. Sternwall (Ace Books, 1954).

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"Jesus just spoke to me..."

"Jesus just spoke to me, Rodney. And he told me he wants you to take a vow of silence – forever!"

She Brooked No Nonsense, by Horace P. Sternwall (Ace Books, 1954).

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"two more minutes"

Perhaps two more minutes, she thought. Two more minutes for the sodium pentothal to take effect. Then she would be free. Free at last.

She Brooked No Nonsense, by Horace P. Sternwall (Ace Books, 1954).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"Yes, Terence..."

“Yes, Terence,” she said, “I know you’re sincere. You’re so sincere it’s all I can do not to sock you in the jaw.”

She Brooked No Nonsense by Horace P. Sternwall (Ace Books, 1954).

"the subtle art"

“He had mastered the subtle art of disguising boastfulness as modesty.”

She Brooked No Nonsense by Horace P. Sternwall (Ace Books, 1954).

"No, Chad..."

“No, Chad, I’m sorry, I simply can’t do this anymore. You are just too fantastically tedious.”

She Brooked No Nonsense by Horace P. Sternwall (Ace Books, 1954).


“He was brimful of opinions which absolutely no one wanted to hear.”

She Brooked No Nonsense by Horace P. Sternwall (Ace Books, 1954)

"She Brooked No Nonsense"

"When you continually imply how sensitive and good you are, you only convince me that you are indeed a vampire of the most revolting kind."

She Brooked No Nonsense by Horace P. Sternwall (Ace Books, 1954).

Friday, January 24, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 381: Eddie

We left our memoirist Arnold Schnabel (currently marooned in the corporeal host of “Porter Walker, a broodingly handsome young poet”) in Greenwich Village’s popular Kettle of Fish tavern, where Arnold has made the acquaintance of America’s ostensibly most-beloved poet…

(Please go here to read our previous episode; if you’re looking for a new obsession that will really impress all the other patients at the rest home you may click here to return to the very first chapter of this 79-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)

“I actually quite welcomed the recent blizzard as an excellent excuse to stay home and spend several days rereading many of my favorite passages from Arnold Schnabel’s staggeringly brilliant chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in the Parade Magazine Literary Supplement.

“Come on,” he said. “I left it on my stool.”

He turned and headed for the bar, and I limped along behind him. I saw Norman Mailer and Ben down toward the middle of the bar, and no doubt Ferdinand was with them, lapping up beer and liquor to his heart’s content. Those three hadn’t missed me yet, if they ever would.

The old man went up to the end of the bar, it was one of those bars that had a short section at right angles to the main part, with four or five barstools, and one of them was empty. I saw the old guy pick something up off the seat of the stool, and he was facing me and holding it up when I got there.

“Here ya go, kid, take a look at this action.”

I looked at it. It was just an old olive-green nylon army poncho. I had had one just like it back when I was in the service.

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“Nice, huh?”

“Um, yeah,” I said.

“What,” he said.

“Pardon me?” I said, or, again, shouted, we were both still shouting over the noise of all the drunken people in here and the loud jazz music.

“That look,” he said. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing,” I said.

“What were you expecting? Sable? Purple velvet?”

“Well, uh –”

“Let me ask you a question.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Do I look like a pansy?”


“Do I look like a pansy to you. A fruit. A fag.”

“No,” I said. “Uh –”

“Good,” he said. “Now let me ask you another question if I may.”

“Um –”

“May I? Ask you another question?”


“Answer me this: me not being a pansy, or a fag – or a fruit – do you think that for one minute I would be caught dead in one of those pansy-ass black sable mantles?”

“Um -”

“Or maybe even worse, one of those faggy purple velvet jobs?”

“I, uh, I guess not –”

“This is good enough for me,” he said. He gave the poncho a shake, sort of the way a matador would shake his cape to attract a bull. Not that I’ve ever seen a real bullfight, but I’ve seen movies. “This.”

“Um,” I said.

“You want to touch it?” he said.

“Uh,” I said.

“Go right ahead,” he said. “I don’t mind.”

“That’s okay,” I said.

“Touch it, go on.”

So, to keep him happy I touched it, even pinched a bit of the fabric between my thumb and finger. It was an old army poncho all right.

“What do you think?”

“Nice,” I said.

“That’s good old reliable American nylon right there.”

“Yes, it seems very high quality,” I said.

“Damn straight it’s high quality. Made by the U.S. government. Got it pretty cheap, too, in the army/navy store over on the Bowery.”

“Oh, so it is an army poncho,” I said.

“No,” he said. “It’s the mantle of America’s most beloved poet. How many times do I have to fucking tell you?”

“Sorry,” I said. “So, look, about that pen or pencil –”

“Oh my fucking God you are like a broken gramophone record with this pen and pencil crap.”

He threw the old poncho over the stool, it was a backless stool, the kind that are easier to fall off of.

“Bobby giving you a hard time, kid?”

This was another old guy, but not as old as Bobby. He was wearing a light brown suit and a red bow tie, and he was sitting on the stool to the left of the empty stool with the poncho on it, and he had swiveled around to face me and Bobby.

“Mind your own business, Eddie,” said Bobby.

“Fuck you, Bobby,” said the man, with a tight grin. His hair hung down over one side of his forehead, and it was grey at the temples. He had a beer mug in his right hand and a cigarette in his left. 

Robert Frost pointed one of his gnarled old fingers at this new old man.

“Don’t push me, hack,” he said.

“Or you’ll what, Bobby?” said the man, and now he wasn’t grinning anymore.

“I’ll show you what,” said Bobby.



“I am not a fake. I write real poetry, poems people can understand. The kind of poems people like to cut out and stick on their icebox doors with magnets.”

“You write faux-populist bullshit.”

“Populist, yeah, sure. Faux? No. I don’t think so.”

“Okay, guys,” I said, “I have to go.”

“What? Just like that?” said the new guy.

“Yes,” I said. “Sorry.”

“Don’t mind us. Me and Bobby, we do this all the time, don’t we, Bobby?”

“Pretty often,” said Bobby.

“Let me buy you a drink,” said the new guy. He put his beer mug into his left hand and extended his now-empty right hand. “Eddie Guest. People’s poet. The real people’s poet.”

“The people don’t know shit about real poetry,” said Bobby.

“Come on,” said Eddie Guest. “Don’t leave me hanging, man.”

I took his hand, reluctantly, and I could just tell he was about to start up one of those hand-squeezing contests, so I quickly yanked my hand away after the most perfunctory shake possible.

“You’re Porter Walker, right?”

“He’s got no manners,” said Bobby. “Young punk.”

“Yes,” I said. “I suppose I’m Porter Walker.”

“I heard your reading earlier tonight,” said Eddie Guest. “Not bad.”

“Thank you.”

“A little depressing maybe.”

“I know,” I said.

“At least he doesn’t write this phony sentimental shit like you do,” said Bobby.

“Hey, the people like my phony sentimental shit,” said the man.

“Ah, fuck this, I want a drink,” said Bobby, and he looked in a greedy way at the bar top in front of the empty stool. There was a filmy cocktail glass there, but it was empty.

“I got this round,” said the man. “What are you drinking, Porter?”

“Look,” I said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I have friends waiting for me down the bar there.”

“If you don’t mean to be rude then don’t be rude,” he said.

“All these young punks are rude,” said Bobby, as he attempted to climb up on the empty barstool. He seemed to be having difficulty, so I put my hands on both sides of his bony ribcage and lifted him up on to it. He didn’t say thanks. What he did say was, “I’ll take a fucking Brandy Alexander.”

“Brandy Alexander,” said Eddie Guest. “What’s your poison, Porter?”

“Just a beer,” I said, surrendering.

“What kind?”

“The wet kind,” I said.

“Ha ha, I like you.”

He lifted his mug, drank down the beer that was in it, turned and slammed down the mug, and then yelled down the bar at the bartender:

“Hey, Vito! Brandy Alexander and two Falstaff drafts!”

“Hold your fucking horses, Eddie!” yelled the bartender back.

“Ha ha, I love that guy,” said  Eddie. “Squeeze in here, Porter, in between me and Bobby.”

I moved in between them. One beer, and I would try to get a pen or a pencil from these madmen, or from someone, anyone.

Eddie put his arm around my waist. It felt like a snake somehow, a boa constrictor maybe, but then my nerves were on edge. He yelled into my ear:

“You’ve read my poems, right?”

“What was your name again?” I said, which was a stupid question really, because I didn’t read anyone’s poems.

“Guest, Eddie Guest. You must have seen at least some of my poems, or maybe you’ve heard me on the radio, or seen me on TV?”

“Well, I don’t really watch much TV,” I said, which wasn’t true, I watched TV, but mostly westerns or shows like M Squad or Mike Hammer. “By the way, I wonder if I could buy a pen or a pencil from you.”

“Here we go,” said Bobby. He had taken out a pack of Lucky Strikes, and he lit one up with a paper match. “Fucking kid’s obsessed with finding a pen or a pencil.”

“Why, in heaven’s name?” said Eddie.

“It’s that fucking book he’s carrying around,” said Bobby. “Wants to fill it up.”

“I see,” said Eddie. “Is this true, Porter?”

“Yes,” I said, yelled, almost screamed. “I just want to find a pen or a pencil so I can write something in this book.”

“Jesus Christ, man, calm down,” said Eddie. “We’ll get you a pen or a pencil.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“I mean, if you’re possessed of the poetic urge, I guess you just got to let it rip, right?”

“Yes,” I said.

“No harm in that. What are you going to write?”

“I’d rather not talk about it,” I said.

“I like that,” he said. “A poet who doesn’t want to talk about his work. This is very rare. But I like it. You know what’s the only thing more boring than poetry?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Nothing?”

“Ha ha, I like you, kid. Hey, Bobby, I like this guy.”

“He’s all right for a young punk,” said Bobby. He tapped his cigarette with his finger and the ash fell down onto his lap. He left it there.

“He’s got sand,” said Eddie. “Reminds me of me when I was a young hellion. But you’re wrong, Porter.”

“I am?”

“Yes. There is just one thing more boring than poetry. You know what that is?”

I wanted to say, Yes, being here, now, stuck in between you two, but I wanted that pen or pencil, so I said, “No.”

“I’ll tell you what’s more boring than poetry,” he said. “It’s a poet talking about his fucking poetry! Ha ha!”

He stared at me.

“You’re not laughing,” he said.

“Ha ha?” I said.

“Good man!”

He took his arm away from around my waist and gave me a clap on the back.

Then the bartender was there, and he laid down what I presumed to be a Brandy Alexander and two mugs of what I hoped was beer.

“Buck-fifty,” he said.

Eddie tapped a pile of bills on the bar in front of him.

“Out of here,” he said.

The bartender picked up two one-dollar bills.

“Keep the change, Vito,” said Eddie.

“Big spender,” said Vito.

He took Eddie’s empty mug and Bobby’s empty cocktail glass and he headed back to the cash register.

“Love that guy,” said Eddie. "Guys like that, that’s who I write my poems for.”

“Guys like that don’t read poems,” said Bobby.

“You don’t think so?” said Eddie.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Bobby. He lifted up his drink, glaring at Eddie, or maybe that was just the way he looked at everybody, or at anything. “You know who reads poems?”

“No, Bobby,” said Eddie. “Who reads poems?”

“Pansies,” said Bobby. “Pansies read poems.”

And then he took a drink of his Brandy Alexander.

(Continued here, and for somewhere roughly between fourteen and nineteen more years, and possibly even much longer.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for a somewhat frequently updated listing of all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, a Horace P. Sternwall Enterprises© production ; also published in the Collingswood Patch™: “A journal fitting for a town small in size but large in spirit.”) 

Friday, January 17, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 380: the mantle

Let’s rejoin our intrepid hero Arnold Schnabel (at the moment inhabiting the persona of “Porter Walker, epic poet”) here in Greenwich Village’s Kettle of Fish tavern, where Arnold has just made the acquaintance of a certain aged white-haired poet…

(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; If you’ve finally given up all hope of spending your leisure time even remotely profitably then you may as well go here to return to the far-off misty beginnings of this 59-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“Settled in my old easy chair by a roaring fire, with an afghan over my lap, my faithful collie ‘Milton’ curled up by my feet and my meerschaum to hand – what better way to spend an evening in the celestial company of Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling
chef-d'œuvre?” – Harold Bloom, in the AARP Literary Supplement.

“That’s a good strong grip you got there, m’boy,” he said, hanging onto my hand in a feeble way, “and your hand feels somewhat rough and callused, too, unlike most of these modern-day pansy-boy poets. You’re not a pansy, are you?”

“No, sir,” I said.

“Would you tell me if you were?”

“Probably not,” I said.

“Ha ha, come on, let’s really feel that grip. Let’s have a handshake contest.”

“A what?”

“A handshake contest. You squeeze the other guy’s hand like hell and the first one who screams like a little girl and says ‘I give’ loses.”

“I’d prefer not to,” I said.

“Come on, punk, see if you can take this!”

He screwed his face up and tightened his thin ancient lips, and I saw oily moisture oozing out of the cracks and fissures of his face, the pallor of which now turned from the color of the tissue paper lining a dresser drawer in a room no one has entered since 1909 to that of an earthworm only recently dead of old age. I felt a very slight pressure from his hand in mine, but just very slight, barely noticeable in fact, like the gentle dreaming fluttering of a sleeping sparrow.

“Can’t take it, can you,” he said, through his gritted teeth, or, more likely, dentures. “You give up, punk?”

I prayed to God, well, to Josh: Give me the strength, Josh, I prayed, the strength not only not to crush this old maniac’s twiggish little hand, but also the strength not to throw him down like an old rag doll to the floor.

“Go on!” he yelled. “Just say ‘I give’, and I’ll let you go!”

And then, even though I didn’t hear from Josh – I’m sure he was preoccupied with much more important matters – I realized on my own that even though this old fool might deserve to be whirled about my head and then hurled across the room, cartwheeling above the drunken revelers’ heads to splat against the far wall, doing so would not advance me one iota towards the accomplishment of my mission, which was after all to return finally to that world I liked to call my own, with all its faults, all its many faults.

“Okay,” I said. “I give.”

“Ha ha!” he cackled, it was a sound like someone choking on a chicken bone. He pulled his hand away from mine. “Not bad for an old fart, huh, kid?”

“No, sir,” I said. “That’s quite some grip you have there.”

“Know how I got that strong grip?”

“No,” I said.

“And don’t say it was from choking the chicken.”

“Um. Uh –” I said.

He shook his little gnarled fist in my face.

“Want to know how I got this grip?”

I didn’t, but I knew if I admitted as much he might pull a knife or a gun on me, so I said, “Yes, I would like to know.”

“Chopping wood.”

“Oh, well, that sounds like a good –”

“Chopping wood. Try it. Get yourself a good strong heavy axe and chop some fucking wood.”

“Okay,” I said.

“You got a fireplace? Or maybe a wood-burning stove?”

“Well,” I said, “no, but –”

“But what?”

“Maybe I could get one?”

“A fireplace? Or a wood-burning stove?”

“Yes?” I said.

“You fucking with me?”

“Um, no,” I said.

“You fuck with me and I’ll fuck you up.”

“Um, listen,” I said. “Mr. Frost?”

“I said to call me Bobby.”

“Bobby,” I said. “I wonder if you have a pen or a pencil you could lend me, or maybe even better if I could purchase it from you –”


“I need a pen. Or a pencil.”

“For what?”

I sighed.

“Don’t sigh when I ask you a question,” he said, or yelled. I suppose I should reiterate that both of us were shouting all this nonsense because of the noise of the people and the music in this place. “I said ‘what’!” he shouted. “What do you need a fucking pen or a pencil for at midnight in a bar in the Village?”

I held up the green blank book I was still carrying.

“I need to write something,” I said. “In this.”

“What’s that? Like your notebook?”

“Sort of,” I said.

I opened the book up, facing him, and I flipped through the pages.

“See, I have to fill up all these blank pages.”

“Fill up all the pages.”

“Right,” I said. “Then I’ll have a new book.”

“Okay,” he said. “Fair enough.” He put an ancient index finger on the title embossed on the cover. “But why does it say ‘The Ace of Death, a novel of despair and terror, by Horace P. Sternwall’?”

“Well,” I said, “that’s a long story.”

“Make it a short one.”

This old bookseller talked me into buying this book, but then when I finally opened it up I saw that all the pages were blank.”

“Bookseller? Who was this bookseller?”

“Mr. Philpot?” I said.

Philpot! Damn him! Damn his eyes! Damn him and all he stands for!”

“Well, anyway,” I said.

“He gypped you,” he said. “Just as he has gypped, hornswoggled and cheap-jacked so many before you! Selling you a blank fucking book!”

“I didn’t mind, really,” I said. “Anyway, I do want to write something in it.”

“You don’t have much choice now, do you?”

“I don’t?”

“What do you think?”

I had no idea what he was talking about, didn’t want to know, and was afraid to know.

“Look,” I said, “I think I have seven dollars or so. I’ll give you all of it for a pencil.”

“Seven Yankee dollars for a pencil? Are you quite mad?”

“That’s possible,” I said.

“Let me look into your eyes, boy.”

“I’d prefer you didn’t, sir.”


“I’d really prefer you didn’t, Bobby,” I said.

“Shut up. Now look into my eyes.”

I looked into his old watery pale blue eyes. I saw the same mystery I saw whenever I looked into anyone’s eyes, as well as an obvious hostility.

After half a minute I couldn’t or wouldn’t take any more.

“Okay, look,” I said. “If you don’t have a pen or a pencil, that’s okay, I’ll ask someone else.”

“Quiet,” he said. “I’m examining your soul.”

“Oh,” I said. “Will it take long?”

“It’ll take as long as it takes.”

He continued to stare into my eyes, and once again I prayed to Josh:

“Oh, Josh,” I prayed, “if you can hear me, could you please take a minute from your busy schedule and just disengage me somehow from this annoying old man? I’m not asking you to perform a miracle and to make a pen or a pencil magically appear in my pocket, and I’m certainly not asking you to try again just to transport me back to my own world, I realize that is asking too much, but if you could just –”

“Yes, Arnold?” said Josh’s voice, from somewhere in my head. “What was that?”

“Oh, it’s you, Josh,” I prayed.

“Sure it’s me. What’s up, buddy?”

“Are you busy?” I prayed, because he did sound preoccupied.

“I am, a little, but don’t worry, what is it?”

“Oh, my gosh,” I prayed. “I just remembered. You must be with Carlotta.”

“How’d you guess?”

“Well, they told me back at that Valhalla place that –”

“Boy, people love to gossip, don’t they?”

“They do, I guess,” I prayed. 

“By the way,” he said, “where the hell did you disappear to? I got some laudanum for you but when I came out you were gone.”

“It’s – complicated, Josh,” I prayed. “But, listen, never mind, go back to what you were doing.”

“So you think you know what I’m doing?”

“Well, I couldn’t say for sure,” I prayed.

“You slay me, Arnold. So you’re sure you’re okay?”

“Well, I’m still trying to get back to my world,” I prayed.

“Wish I could help you,” he said.

“I’ll work it out,” I prayed.

“You’re really sure? Because I could wrap things up here, meet up with you, maybe we could try to work something out?”

“No, really, Josh,” I prayed. “You enjoy yourself.”

“Where are you, anyway? That the San Remo?”

“No,” I prayed, “it’s the Kettle of Fish?”

“Oh, right,” he said. “The Kettle of Fish, I should have known that. I swear, I really am losing all my Godly powers.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll retain some of them,” I prayed, I don’t know why.

“Well, look,” he said, “if you’re really okay –”


There was a moment’s silence in my cavernous skull, and then I heard Josh’s voice again:

“Carlotta’s really swell, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, she’s great,” I said, prayed.

“Okay, then – look, Arnold, I’ll check in with you, uh, you know, afterwards –”

“Sure –”

“Maybe we’ll swing by the Kettle of Fish later, if you think you might still be there –”

“I hope not,” I mumbled in my prayers.


“Nothing, Josh,” I prayed. “Sure, maybe I’ll catch you here later –”

“Okay, au revoir then, buddy!”

“Oh, wait, but Josh, if you do come here, will you bring a pen or a pencil?” I prayed, but it was too late, he was gone.

Oh, well.

“Okay,” said Robert Frost.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“I have looked into your soul, such as it is, and you have passed the test.”

“I have? What test?”

“The test of are you worthy to assume my mantle as America’s most beloved poet.”


“And you’ll do. At least I hope you’ll do.”

“Oh,” I said again.

“That’s all you got to say?”

“Thanks?” I said.

“That’s better. A little politeness never killed anybody, y’know.”

“So,” I said, “getting back to that pen or pencil –”

“Fuck that. I’m talking about something important here.”


“I’ll get you your pen or pencil. I’ll get you a goddam peacock quill if that’s what you want.”


“But there’s just one thing you got to know. And that is I’m not dead yet. I’m not saying I won’t be dead pretty soon, but until that black day the mantle is mine and all mine, you got that?”


“What did I just say?”

“Um, that the mantle won’t be mine until you, uh, pass away.”

“And what mantle am I talking about?”

“Most beloved poet?”

America’s most beloved poet.”

“Right,” I said. “I meant that.”

“Okay, then. You want to see it?”

“I don’t understand.”

“The mantle. Do you want to see it?”

“Of America’s most beloved poet?”

“I’m not talking about the mantle of Communist Russia’s most beloved poet. You’re not a Communist, are you?”

“No, not at all –”

“What are you?”

“Well, nothing really, I mean, I normally vote Democrat, but –”

“Party of the working man, bla bla bla.”

“Well, I’m not really very political, really –”

“Good, keep it that way. Stick to writing your epic poems,  although if you’ll take my advice you’ll learn how to knock out a nice lyric poem once in a while.”


“Nature poems are always good. Snow, trees, clip clop of the horses’ hooves, all that crap.”

“Right,” I said, “you know, if you could see your way to lending me that pen or pencil then I might dash off a nice little lyric poem right away.”

“Cows. Flowers. Flowers are good. Milk cans. Water pitchers. Any kind of farming implements.”

“I’ll bear that in mind.”

“People love that stuff. Because the people who actually read this shit never live on farms or out in the woods, so they like to read poems about all that nature stuff.”

“Well, that makes sense. So if I could –”

“Makes ‘em feel good about themselves and their boring little lives.”

“If I could just get that pen –”

“Come on, I’ll show it to you.”

“The pen?”

“No, not the pen.”

“Not the pen.”

“Not the pen. Not yet. I’m gonna show you the mantle.”

“The mantle?”

“The mantle of America’s most beloved poet.”


“You do want to see it, don’t you?”

What could I say? 


To America’s most beloved poet?

“Sure,” I said, although I didn’t want to see his mantle.

But maybe if I went along and looked at his mantle he would finally give me a pen, a pencil, a peacock quill, something to write with. 

At this point I would settle for a safety pin to poke a hole in my finger with, so that I could write what I had to write with my own blood.

(Continued here, and until the fat lady’s song calls the final cow back to the barn.)

(Please cast your eye down the right hand column of this page to find a likely-as-not current listing of all other available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, now available for a modest fee on your new Kindle™; also appearing absolutely free of charge in the Collingswood Patch™: “South Jersey’s clarion call of literary ecstasy.”)

Friday, January 10, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 379: rolling

We left our memoirist Arnold Schnabel (currently trapped in the fictional persona of “Porter Walker, bohemian poet”) here in the Kettle of Fish, on Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street, on a long hot night in August of 1957…

(Please click here to read our previous thrilling episode; go here to return to the very first chapter of this 73-volume Gold View Award™-winning masterwork.)

“One hears phrases like ‘inspired lunacy’ applied to Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling and majestic
chef-d'œuvre: I accept the adjective, but I object most strenuously to the noun.” – Harold Bloom, in the Boys’ Life Literary Supplement.

I suppose I looked downcast.

I suppose I might have heaved a great sigh. 

Perhaps my demeanor betrayed a hint of despair.

All I know is that this Norman Mailer fellow put his cigarette  in his mouth, thus freeing up his right hand which he then put on my shoulder.

“Hey, Porter,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world. We’ll find you a pen, or at least a pencil.”

“Yes, of course, I know,” I said, although of course I knew no such thing.

Fortunately he took his hand off my shoulder. I told myself to be happy for this at least, although now, standing here, after just recently running across the rainy street on two bad legs, I became aware once again of my various physical pains, never mind whatever sort of mental or spiritual distress I may have been undergoing, and I think I flinched, or grimaced, or both.

“You look,” said Norman Mailer, “– and please forgive my presumption in saying so – but you look as if you have just been vouchsafed a glimpse of that dark well of nothingness into which we all must someday descend.”

“No, it’s not that,” I said.

“Then what the hell is it?”

“My legs hurt,” I said. “I had several accidents tonight, and I bruised my head and arms as well.”

“You do look, dare I say, somewhat soiled and wet and scruffy. I didn’t want to mention it, thinking perhaps this was due only to bohemianism, and not misadventure.”

“Well, look,” I said, “I really better try to find that pen or pencil.”

“You and that crazy pen or pencil.”

I shrugged.

“Okay, buddy, we’ll get you a pen or a pencil. Any preference?”

“I suppose a ballpoint pen,” I said.

“But you’ll take a pencil.”

“I’ll take a child’s crayon at this point,” I said.

“Raring to strike while the flame of inspiration is firing your soul.”

“Yes,” I said.

“We’ll fix you up, but, first, may I ask you a question?”

This time I’m pretty sure I sighed.

“Oh, it’s nothing too personal, don’t worry,” he said. “I just wanted to ask you about something you said.”

“I say a lot of stupid things,” I said. 

“No need to get preëmptively defensive,” he said. “But it’s just that you said you thought you saw me on TV.”

“Right,” I said. “I think you were being interviewed with this little guy, Truman something?”


“Right, him,” I said. 

“I’ve never been on television with Truman,” he said. “I’ve never been on TV at all, to my knowledge.”

Suddenly I remembered that the show I’d seen him on was from a later date, maybe 1959, in other words it was still in the future. If I wasn’t careful I would have some explaining to do, and I was so tired of explaining.

“I must have been mistaken then,” I said. “It must not have been you but someone else.”

“Maybe James Jones?”

“Maybe,” I said.

“Do you think I look like Jimmy Jones?”

“Listen,” I said, “I made a mistake. I don’t even know who this Jimmy Jones is.”

“He’s not so bad. Wrote one book that was not entirely without merit.”

“Okay, look, Mr. Mailer –”

“Call me Norman.”

“Listen, Norman,” I said. “I hate to be rude, but –”

“The pen. The pencil,” he said. “I understand.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“But may I ask you what you think of my books?”

“I’m sorry, Norman,” I said. “As far as I know I haven’t read your books. All I read are the kind of cheap paperbacks you find on those revolving racks in drug stores.”

“You mean like cowboy books, or science fiction?”

“Sometimes,” I said, already bored with the subject.

“Tales of high adventure, of pirates on the high seas?”

“Occasionally,” I said, “but mostly just, you know, books about ordinary guys who get trapped in a vortex of passion and violence”

“But I write about that kind of stuff,” he said. “I mean sort of. You sure you didn’t read my novel The Naked and the Dead?”

“No,” I said. “Sorry.”

I almost mentioned that I had however seen the movie of that name, with Aldo Ray, but I held my tongue, not being sure if the movie had been made yet.

“You never read my Deer Park, or maybe Barbary Shore?”

“Was Barbary Shore about pirates?”


“Sorry, I never read it then.”

“You make me realize how profoundly insignificant a not untalented but somewhat successful and, yes, very ambitious writer may in point of fact be.”

“We are all significant in God’s eyes,” I said.

“You don’t really believe that, do you?”

“No,” I said. “I was trying to make you feel better.”

“But why? You don’t know me.”

“It cost me little effort,” I said. “But, look, Norman –”

“I know,” he said. “I know. The pen already. The pencil –”

Suddenly Ben stood there.

“Okay,” he said, bellowed. “We got that all straightened out. Now let’s get our drink on.”

“I would like if I may to buy you two fellows a drink,” said Norman.

“It’s a deal,” said Ben. “Lead the way, pal.”

“Follow me, guys,” said Norman and he turned and strode toward the bar, and Ben followed him. I followed them both, limping slowly and gingerly.

“Who’s your new friend?” said Ferdinand, who had flown into my ear again.

“Norman Mailer,” I said.

“A ham-and-egger,” said Ferdinand. “Only my opinion, you understand. But, hey, if he’s buying who cares how crappy his books are, right?”

I didn’t say anything, but continued on toward the bar, where Ben and Norman were now standing, Ben towering over Norman, and Norman holding his right arm out, trying to get the bartender’s attention. 
Okay, one drink, I thought. There didn’t seem to be any way to avoid that, and besides, I’ll be honest here, I wanted a drink. So I would get a beer, and then I would see about borrowing or buying a writing implement from someone.

A little old white-haired man in a wrinkled white suit grabbed my right arm.

“Hey, I know who you are,” he said.

“I think you’re mistaken, sir,” I said.

“Fuck I am. You’re that Porter Walker, the hot new poet around town.”

“Oh, right, yes, I suppose I am,” I said.

“I caught your act earlier tonight. Not bad. Not bad at all.”

“Thank you,” I said. I tried to shake his arm off but he wouldn’t let go. “But I, uh, have to join my friends at the bar.”

“Don’t give me that shit. Don’t you know who I am?”

“Um –” I took a wild guess. “Carl Sandburg?”

“What, that bum? You don’t like his shit, do you?”

“No,” I said, “I just thought –”

“You thought. What, all old poets look the same to you, do they?”

“I’m very sorry.”

“Robert Frost is my name. You have heard of me I presume.”

“Yes, sir,” I said. 

He still held onto my arm, the thin fingers digging into my biceps.

“You may call me Bobby. And I shall call you Porter.”

“Okay,” I said. “Great to meet you, Bobby, but –”

“What is your all-fired hurry, boy?”

He tightened his grip on my arm.

“Well, it’s just that my friends are, uh –”

“Your friends, your friends – don’t give me that crap. You know how many rising young poets would kill for an audience with me?”

I wondered where Ferdinand had got to, but then I knew. He wouldn’t wait around listening to this rude old man when there were drinks being poured over at the bar.

“Why are you looking at the bar?” said Robert Frost. “Don’t look away when I’m talking to you. Show some respect.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“I heard you got a twenty grand advance from Smythe & Son for this new epic poem you got coming out.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “It was nothing like twenty grand –”

“I don’t get a twenty grand advance for a new book. Why should you?”

“But I didn’t,” I said.

“Don’t lie to me, punk. I may be old but I can still throw a mean left hook to the gut when you’re not looking.”

At last he let go of my arm, so that he could mime throwing a left hook into my gut.

“Don’t think I won’t fuck you up,” he said.

“But I assure you I didn’t get twenty thousand for my book,” I said.

“What are you gonna spend it on? Whores? Booze? Opium?”

“But –”

“Here’s the deal, kid.” He pointed his finger at me. “I’ll write a blurb for your book, and a good one. Like, ‘The most exciting new voice in poetry since Eddie Guest!’ How would you like that? A line like that on the cover of your book, with my name under it in bold print, I guarantee you that’ll move at least fifty thousand units right there.”

“Well, okay,” I said. “I guess you’ll have to talk to my publisher, Julian Smythe?”

“He’s another punk, a dandy, a playboy fop, and his old man is a bastard. But you have them get in touch with me.”

“Okay,” I said. “Would you like them to send you a copy of the book to read, or –“

“I didn’t say I wanted to read your book. I said I would write a blurb for it. Don’t presume. That’s the trouble with you young johnnies, you presume.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“Don’t presume. Ever.”

“I’ll try not to,” I said.

“And here’s your part of the deal. In return I want you to write a blurb for my next collection.”


“What do you mean, ‘um’?”

“Well, I’ve never written a blurb before –”

“Oh, Jesus Christ, what, and you’re supposed to be a poet?”

“But I’m a bad poet,” I said.

“You probably are. Lookit, Porter, when the time comes, I’ll write the fucking blurb. All you got to do is let us use your name. You think you can handle that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Now shake hands on it.”

I took his ancient dry old hand. I had an awful urge to squeeze it as hard as I could, to crush it into a crumbly powder, but I refrained.

(Continued here, and for no one really knows how long, as yet another cache of Arnold Schnabel’s copybooks has only recently been discovered under a pile of Reader’s Digests in a dresser drawer in the guest house formerly owned by his aunts in Cape May, New Jersey..)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find a possibly current listing of all other officially-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, now available for a modest fee on your new Kindle™; also published in the Collingswood Patch™: “South Jersey’s voice of freedom.”) 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 378: importunate

Let’s rejoin our bold hero Arnold Schnabel (accompanied by his stout companions Big Ben Blagwell and Ferdinand the loquacious fly) as, once again, he enters a bar, in this case the Kettle of Fish, on Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street, on a fateful rainy night in August of 1957…

(Kindly go here to read our previous thrilling chapter; click here, if you must, to return to the very beginnings of this 62-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.

“Arnold Schnabel! How swiftly the name flies from one’s lips when the literary reporters at the annual PEN conference ask one yet again to name the preëminent American man (or woman) of letters!” – Harold Bloom, in the
Ladies’ Home Journal Literary Supplement.

The place was mobbed, even more crowded than it had been during my last visit earlier that night or was it thirty-eight months ago? 

I saw faces I recognized although none of their names immediately rose to the turbulent surface of my mind, and I saw many other faces I didn’t recognize. A band was playing jazz music, and through the barely translucent cloud of tobacco smoke that filled the room like dirty dishwater I could see the vague ghostly shapes of the musicians way back in their little corner, but I couldn’t tell if it was the same combo that had been playing here earlier.

Ben of course had followed in behind me, and at once he clapped his great hand on my shoulder, but before I could go sprawling spread-eagled to the floor he grabbed my left arm with his other hand and held me up by my biceps. He took his cigarette out of his mouth, leaned his head down close to mine and bellowed in my ear:

“So, Arnie, how about them drinks?”

“Hey, man!” yelled out Ferdinand, from inside my ear, “watch where you’re yelling!”

He flew out of my ear and hovered in a menacing way in front of Ben’s face.

“Sorry, little buddy,” said Ben. “But it’s noisy in here!”

“I know it’s noisy,” said Ferdinand, “but it’s not that noisy that you got to blow my goddam eardrums out.”

“You got eardrums?” said Ben.

“Yes, I ‘got eardrums’,” said Ferdinand. “And so does poor Arnie, or at least he did before half a minute ago.”

“I’m really sorry, pal,” said Ben, and he even looked as if he meant it, or at least as if he meant to give the impression that he meant it.

“Look, don’t bother being sorry,” said Ferdinand. “Just try to speak in a reasonably loud voice. For Christ’s sake.”

“I been told before I got a loud mouth,” said Ben. “It’s from working in them engine rooms all them years, and also going through all them kamikaze attacks, and –”

“Hey,” said Ferdinand. “I appreciate all that, but it’s still no excuse.”

“It ain’t?” said Ben.

“No,” said Ferdinand. “It ain’t.”

“All the blood I saw. The screaming and dying. The spilled guts. The men and boys crying for their moms –”

“Doesn’t matter,” said Ferdinand.

“It don’t?” said Ben.

“It don’t,” said Ferdinand.

While this above-quoted dialogue was going on, I was busy thinking that I really didn’t want to make a big deal out of coming in here. I just wanted to get hold of a pen or a pencil so that I could try to write myself out of this world, and I silently resolved not to let myself become distracted or diverted from this plan. 

But of course things immediately got complicated.

A stocky curly-haired guy came up to me. He was dressed for the hot sticky weather, in khaki trousers and a light blue polo shirt with a little green alligator sewn onto its breast. He held a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

“You Porter Walker?” he said.

I suddenly experienced one of those little brain implosions I have no more than a hundred times a day, and so instead of saying yes, I forgot for the moment who I was in this world.

“No,” I said.

“You’re not? What’s your name?”

“Arnold,” I said. “Arnold Schnabel.”

“Y’know,” said Ben, loudly, “you might just have a little more sympathy for veterans who have served their country.”

“What?” said the curly-haired man.

“Oh, boo hoo,” said Ferdinand. “You want to borrow my pink perfumed hanky, you big crybaby?”

“Who said that?” said the curly-haired man.

“We’re not talking to you, pal,” said Ben. “So keep out of it.”

“Yeah, mind your own beeswax, curly,” said Ferdinand.

“What?” said the man. “Who said that?”

“What’d we just tell ya?” said Ben. “This is between me and my friend, so butt out.”

“Yeah, take a hike, shorty,” said Ferdinand. “Go play some night polo.”

“What?” said the man. “Who? How?”

I made a snap decision, because the last thing I wanted was for a brawl to break out that would get us thrown out of here before I could acquire a writing implement. Ben was still holding onto my arm, so I  quickly pried his hand loose, thank God he didn’t resist, and then with my now freed left arm I grabbed the stocky man by his right arm and pulled him a few feet away from Ben, over to the wall near the entrance.

“Listen,” I said, and I released his arm, “don’t mind my friend. As you might have gathered he’s a war veteran, and sometimes he hears voices when he’s been drinking.”

“But I heard another voice.”

“That was him,” I improvised. “He throws his voice and has conversations with himself.”

“Wow, that was amazing, then. He could be a professional ventriloquist.”

“That’s true,” I said. “I’ve told him that. But he’s sensitive about it.”

“Of course, as he should be. He’s insane.”

“Not insane,” I said. “Just a little disturbed. And plus he’s been drinking all day long pretty much.”

“Well, that will do it,” said the man. “I get a little crazy sometimes too when I drink all day.”

“It’s a bad habit to get into,” I said.

Looking back over my shoulder I could see Ben still standing there by the front door, gesturing with his cigarette and apparently talking to himself, but I knew the truth.

“I was told you were this guy Porter Walker,” said the man.

“Oh.” Suddenly I remembered who I was. “That’s right. I am Porter Walker.”

“Then why did you tell me you were this Harold Schnitzler then?”

“Arnold Schnabel actually,” I said.

“Why did you tell me that?”

“I was afraid you might be a –” I searched for the right phrase, or at least a possibly plausible one – “an importunate stranger.”

“Importunate stranger.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Oh my dear God in stygian hell,” said the man.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“The humiliation.”

“Hey,” I said, “I wonder if you might have a pen or a pencil I might borrow, or, even better, that I might purchase from you?”


“A pen or pencil,” I said. “I have some money. Not a lot, but –”

“You’ve just accused me of being an importunate stranger, and now you ask me for a pen or pencil?”

“Oh, no,” I said. 
And suddenly I became aware that I was sweating profusely yet again, oozing yet more moistness into my clothes from the inside just after they had gotten freshly wet from the outside from that pouring rain as I had hobbled across the street, and I had an urge to whip off my seersucker jacket and the stupid sodden plaid work shirt I was wearing, and even my bluejeans and socks and shoes, but of course I didn’t do any of that.

“I didn’t mean to accuse you of being an importunate stranger,” I said.

“But that’s what I am, all that I am to you,” he said. “Some stranger in a bar who abruptly comes up to you and asks you if you are you.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” I said, just trying to move things along.

“But do you not see,” he said, and he took a moment to take a gulp from his drink, which looked like a highball of some sort, “I mind. I was behaving in just such a way that annoys me when others do it to me. Because I get that all the time. ‘Hey, are you that Mailer guy?’

“Who?” I said.

“Mailer,” he said. “Norman Mailer.”

“Oh, I’ve heard of Norman Mailer,” I said. “I think I saw him on TV one time, you know you do look a little like him.”

“I do.”

“Yes,” I said. “A little. But I guess it does get annoying having people come up to you out of the blue asking if you’re him.”

“But I am him,” he said.


“Norman Mailer. I’m Norman Mailer.”

“Ah,” I said. “Well, no wonder –”

“No wonder what?”

“People come up to you and ask you if you are you.”

“Yes, okay, granted, no wonder, but it’s still fucking annoying.”

“Ah, I see,” I said, and in a way I could, I had never liked even people I knew saying hello to me, and many was the time when I had stayed indoors and ignored pressing errands just because I wasn’t in the mood to have people say hello to me and ask how I was, and then having to lie to them, because no one wants to hear that you are on the verge of despair.

“Soon you’ll know how annoying it can be,” he said. “That is if this new epic poem I have heard about is as good as the cognoscenti say it is.”

“The who?”

“The cognoscenti. The intelligentsia.”

I didn’t know who either of those were, but I let it pass.

“And is it that good?” he said.

“What’s that?” I said.

“The epic.”

“What epic?” I said, although I didn’t care, I was just making conversation until I sensed a good opportunity to bring up the pencil and pen again.

“What epic?” he said. “Why, your epic! The one that Smythe & Son are bringing out.”

“Oh, that one,” I said. “Yes, well, it’s really not very good, so maybe I’ll be lucky and people won’t be coming up to me after all.”

“What do you mean, your epic is not very good?”

“Well, it’s only my opinion,” I said.

“The buzz around the Manhattan literary world is that it is nothing less than a bold and courageous new masterpiece.”

“Oh, well, maybe I’m wrong then,” I said. “What do I know?”

“But you wrote the goddam thing.”

“Well, true,” I said, although what he said was not exactly true.

“People are saying it is the boldest and most courageous new long work by an American in prose or poetry since Moby-Dick.”


“Yes! You’ve also been compared to Longfellow, to Whitman, to Hart Crane. Would you say you owe a debt to Crane?”

“To who?”

“Wait -“

I waited. I can be patient sometimes when I have to be.

“Wait a minute,” he said, staring at me.

I continued to wait. If I could get something to write with from him, then the present boredom would be worth it.

“Could it be?” he said.

“I don’t know,” I said, and for once I was telling the truth.

“Could it be,” he said, “that you are in truth a common-man writer?”

“Yes, that must be it,” I said. “By the way, getting back to the pen or pencil thing –”

“A veritable bard of the unvoiced working class? Untrammeled by an academic education?”

“Well, it’s true I didn’t graduate from high school,” I said, “but I did get my diploma afterwards, when –”

“And here I went to Harvard,” he said, or yelled. We were both yelling actually, because of the noise of the music and of the  people in the bar. “Harvard! The graveyard of authenticity, the cesspool of reality, the sewer of the pulsing hot blood of the American streets and back alleys and hardscrabble farms and empty yawning plains. No wonder I have failed – failed as yet, mind you, but failed so far – to write a truly great novel.”

“Just a pen or a pencil,” I said, “it doesn’t matter which really, and if you like I could buy it off you.”

“What is it with you and this pen or pencil crap?”
“Oh, nothing,” I said. “It’s just that I wanted to write something.”



“Now I get it.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I think I have five dollars or so –”

“You are stricken with inspiration.”

“Pardon me?”

“With the divine afflatus.”

“Um,” I said.

“A new work is churning up from the roiling dark belly of your innermost sacred self.”

“Uh, yeah,” I said. Sometimes I know when it’s best to humor people, and this seemed as if it might be one of those times.

“Boiling up, and perforce it must come out. Vomiting from your soul.”

“Right,” I said.

“A new epic poem?”

“Well,” I said, “maybe a novel.”

“A novel?”


“I wish I could vomit up a novel just like that.”

“It might not be a good novel I vomit up,” I said.

“Don’t say that. Stop putting down your own work. Leave that crap to the critics and to your jealous fellow writers. What is that book you’ve got there.”

“Oh, this,” I said. Somehow I was still hanging onto that stupid book with all the blank pages. “This is the book I’m going to write.”

“It is?”

“Yes,” I said. “The pages are all blank you see.”

I held the book up and riffled through the pages.

“What a great idea,” he said. “Just get a blank book and fill it up. Why didn’t I ever think of that? It is so beautifully simple. And what is this?” he put his thumb and finger on the upper corner of the front cover. “The Ace of Death, by Horace P. Sternwall. Ace of Death is the the title?”

“Right, I guess so,” I said.

“But why Horace P. Sternwall if your name is Porter Walker?”

“I’ve decided to write it under a pen name,” I said, without missing a beat, I was becoming so accustomed to lying.

“Brilliant,” he said. “So people will judge it on its own merits and not be prejudiced by your famous name and reputation.”

“Right,” I said. “So, about that pen or pencil?”

“Sorry, pal, don’t have a pen or pencil on me.”


All this meaningless conversation, for naught. 

The story of my life.

(Continued here, as is only meet and just.)

(Please look to the right hand column of this page to find a rigorously accurate listing of all other bona fide published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, now available on that new Kindle™ you just got. Arnold’s true adventures also appear in the Collingswood Patch™: “New Jersey’s last and best hope for a literary renaissance.”)