Friday, March 28, 2014

“The Man in the Dark Grey Overcoat”

Because of some real-world shenanigans (a very welcome houseguest and a preliminary sprucing-up of the household), our next chapter of Railroad Train to Heaven will be postponed for a week. In its stead we present the following cautionary tale which originally appeared this past January in somewhat different form, and illustrated by Rhoda Penmarq, in New Tales of the Hotel St Crispian.

                            “The Man in the Dark Grey Overcoat”  
                                              by Horace P. Sternwall

(Originally published in Morbid Stories, January, 1950. Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Associate Professor of Post Post-Modern Literature, Olney Community College; editor of Pensées for a Rainy Day by Horace P. Sternwall; the Olney Community College Press.)

Jake knew you had to be careful what you said to guests. Some of these people just weren’t broad-minded, and some of them weren’t above squawking to the management or even to the cops. You had to size a guy up first before saying anything.

So take the big tall fat fellow in the dark grey overcoat and check muffler and dark brown fedora. He had a big red fat Irish mug on him, and what Jake figured, he figured he was an undertaker. And one thing Jake knew about undertakers, they always had the moolah, and plenty of it. On account of theirs was a profession that never had an off season. So as soon as they got up to his room Jake tossed the fat man’s suitcase on the bed, turned to him and said.

“I just want you to know, sir, if there’s anything like special you might need, you just let me know.”

“Special?” the fat man said.

“Yeah. Special. Like something off the menu.”

“Off the menu?”

“Yeah, you know, sir. Like say you wanted some, like, companionship.”

The fat man took off his scarf, and Jake saw the Roman collar around the man’s thick neck.

“Ah, gee, Father,” he said. “I didn’t know.”

“What didn’t you know?”

“That you was a priest.”

“Oh? And does that matter?”

The priest took off his hat and tossed it onto the dresser. He began to unbutton his overcoat.

“What’s your name, pal?”


“Are you Catholic, Jake?”

“I ain’t nothing, Father.”

“You ain’t nothing?”

“Nothing. You know what I think, Father?”

“What’s that, Jake?”

“I think we get one shot on this crazy merry-go-round. And it’s up to us we gonna be chumps or we gonna look out for number one. That’s my religion, Father. But, hey, that’s just me.”

The fat priest tossed his overcoat onto a chair and then reached into the the inner breast-pocket of his priest-jacket and brought out a pack of Old Golds.

Jake was right there with his trusty Zippo, and he gave the priest a light.

“Thanks, Jake.”

“You’re welcome, Father.”

Jake stood there. Priest or no priest, Jake still wasn’t going to leave the room before he got some kind of a tip, even if it was only two bits. It was matter of pride, really, professional pride.

“Do me a favor, Jake,” said the priest, after half a minute, “open up that suitcase on the bed there.”

“Sure thing, Father.”

Jake went over to the bed, clicked the clasps, and opened the lid.

“Lift that layer of shirts and underwear out and just lay them on the bed, will you, Jake?”

“Sure thing, Father,” said Jake, and he did as the priest asked him. Under the layer of underwear and shirts was what looked like a small black leather briefcase.

“That’s what we call the sacrament case,” said the priest.

“Oh,” said Jake. “No kidding.”

The priest looked at Jake, as if he were sizing him up for once and for all, then he reached into the outside breast pocket of his priest-suit jacket, and brought out a small key. He tossed it to Jake, and Jake caught it.

“Go ahead, open it up, Jake.”

“You want me to open up the sacrament case?”

“Yeah, go ahead. I think it will interest you to see its contents.”

Jake hesitated for a moment, then he thought, what’s the worst that could happen?

He turned, leaned down, unlocked the leather case, and then opened the lid.

“Oh my God,” he said. “Oh my God.”

He turned and looked at the priest.

“Oh my God,” he said, again.

The priest reached into his inside jacket pocket and brought out a pint flask.

“You a drinking man, Jake?”


(Illustrated by Rhoda Penmarq, for Penmarq Hi-Class Art Studios™, in association with Horace P. Sternwall Productions
™. )

Friday, March 21, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 389: Sulu Sea

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his comrades Big Ben Blagwell and Ferdinand the talking fly, dashing through a torrential downpour here on Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street on this fateful August night in 1957...

(Please go here to read our preceding thrilling episode; click here to return to that only barely remembered first chapter of this 58-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“Yes, this winter has been oppressive, and I for one gave up even the thought of leaving my comfortable old Victorian house for this entire past month, which I have passed for the most part sitting in my easy chair by a roaring fire, smoking my pipe and reading volume after volume of Arnold Schnabel’s mammoth and mammothly absorbing
chef-d'œuvre.”  – Harold Bloom, in the Mechanics Illustrated Literary Quarterly.

The rain beat down on my head and shoulders like a million pebbles being dumped from a sack by some perverse giant, but I kept going in a hobbled gallop, and yet – thank God or Josh for that ambrosia-infused bock beer I had drunk – still in no great pain, despite the various physical misfortunes I had suffered this night.

In a matter of seconds I made it across the street and up the steps to the entrance to Mr. Philpot’s book shop, over the doorway of which there was a small dark canvas awning, just big enough to cover both myself and Ben, who got there half a second after I did.

“Jesus Christ what a downpour!” he yelled, and for once his yelling was called for, the rain made so much noise, especially rattling as it did on the awning above us. “Ya know what this reminds me of, Arnie?”

“No,” I said.

“Me neither,” said Ferdinand, who flew out of my ear and zoomed around just above our heads. “But I think you’re going to tell us.”

“Okay,” said Ben. “Don’t mind if I do. It was back during the war, and my ship got torpedoed out in the Sulu Sea, and after I jumped off I floated around in my Mae West while I watched that damn Jap sub surface and start machine-gunning my buddies right where they were floating in the water. And I’m thinking, shit, it’s only a matter of time till they get to me, y’know? So I’m paddling away like hell trying to get clear of there, and I can hear that damn Jap sub getting closer, closer, all the time, its machine guns rata-tat-tatting and my buddies screaming and crying –”

“Um, look, Ben,” I said. “I want to hear your story, I really do, but, look, I’m going to ring the buzzer, okay? Because I think Mr. Philpot might still be in there, since there’s a light on, and –”

“Hold on a second, Arnie, don’t you want to know how I escaped the Jap sub?”

“Well, sure,” I said. “But –”

“Ring the bell, Arnie,” said Ferdinand.

“Okay,” I said.

I pressed the button to the side of the door.

I heard a chiming inside.

“See, what happened was,” said Ben, “all of a sudden this goddam monsoon blows up, just like that, just like this kind of downpour we’re having right now, except like ten times worse –”

“Really?” I said.

“Maybe twenty times worse,” said Ben.

“Press the button, again, Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “If there’s a light on he’s probably in there.”

I pressed the button again. The bell chimed within again.

“So what happened was,” said Ben, “on account of this goddam vicious monsoon the Jap sub submerges, like. You know, like ‘ooga ooga’ that siren sound? Like ‘Crash dive!’ You’ve seen that in movies, right?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Give it another buzz, Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “He might be hard of hearing.”

I pressed the button again. The bell chimed.

“So, anyway –” said Ben.

Suddenly the door opened and there was Mr. Philpot.

“Jesus Christ!” he said. “I’m not hard of hearing you know. One ring of the doorbell would have been quite sufficient!”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

Mr. Philpot hadn’t changed in appearance since I had last seen him this evening, or seventeen months ago: the old-fashioned dark suit, the shirt with a wing collar, the pince-nez glasses, with a black ribbon dangling down and tied to a collar button. He held a lit pipe, and this one had some sort of gargoyle carved on the bowl.

“So, you see, Arnie,” said Ben, “it was a monsoon just like this motherfucker right here that saved my ass from that Jap sub. Except that monsoon out in the Sulu Sea was probably thirty times worse than this downpour, if you can imagine that.”

“What?” said Mr. Philpot. “What are you talking about?”

“I was just telling Arnie here a story about this time my ship got sunk by this Jap sub out in the Sulu Sea –”

“This fellow with you?” said Mr. Philpot to me. 

“Yes,” I said. “He’s my friend. Ben, this is Mr. Philpot. Mr. Philpot, this is my friend, Ben Blagwell.”

“They call me Big Ben,” said Ben. “For obvious reasons.”

“Yes, I can see why they would,” said Mr. Philpot. He had his pipe in his right hand, and he left it there, even though Ben had extended his own massive right hand.

“Don’t forget me, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, bobbing up and down to one side of my head. “I am not exactly chopped liver you know.”

“Oh,” I said. “Mr. Philpot, this is my other friend. His name is Ferdinand.”

“This ‘fly’,” said Mr. Philpot, pointing at Ferdinand with the stem of his pipe.

“Yes,” I said.

“Pleased to meet you, sir,” said Ferdinand.

“You’re friends with a talking fly,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Yes,” I said.

“You don’t have to talk about me in the third person like that, sir,” said Ferdinand. “I may only be a fly, but I got feelings, too.”

“So,” said Mr. Philpot, addressing me. “You left my door a bit earlier tonight, allegedly in search of your friend the ‘son of God’. And now you return, soaking wet and filthy, with a black eye, and accompanied by a giant oaf in a Hawaiian shirt and a sailing cap, and – oh – a talking fly.”

“I have a black eye?” I said.

“Yeah, you got the beginnings of a beautiful shiner there, Arnie,” said Ben.

“More like a bruise, really,” said Ferdinand, “going from the corner of your eye and down your cheekbone.”

“It’s getting swole up, too,” said Ben.

I touched the left side of my face. It did feel tender and swollen, but, again, thanks to the nectar of the gods I had drunk, I was not in any great pain. Not yet, anyway.

“I take it it has been an eventful evening for you, Mr. Walker?” said Mr. Philpot.

“Sort of,” I said. “Listen, Mr. Philpot, I was wondering if my friends and I could come into your shop just for a little while.”

“You wish to buy another book?”

“Well, no,” I said. I still had The Ace of Death inside my jacket, under my left arm. I took the book out. “See, I still have the book you sold me.”

“I hope you’re not expecting to exchange it.”

“Well, no –”

“I couldn’t possibly take it back from you for less than, oh, say – oh, let’s make it an even hundred dollars.”

“A hundred bucks?” said Ben. “Arnie, quick, take the hundred bucks for the damn book and lets go get laid, brother.”

“Hold on, my nautical friend,” said Mr. Philpot. “I wasn’t proposing to ‘buy’ the book back from Arnie as you call him – to me you see I like to think of him as Porter, Porter Walker –”

“Whatever,” said Ben. “Arnold, Porter, call him what you like, just don’t call him late for chow, right, Arnie?”

“What I was proposing,” said Mr. Philpot, “is that for a remuneration of one hundred dollars I would be glad to take the book off Porter’s hands.”

“Hold on.” said Ben. “You want him to give you a hundred bucks, to take the book off him.”

“Believe me,” said Mr. Philpot, “that is my rock-bottom price.”

“He’s crazy, Arnie,” said Ben.

“Like a fox,” said Ferdinand.

“Listen, Mr. Philpot,” I said. “I don’t want to sell the book back to you.”

“Oh, all right, give me seventy-five and I’ll take it back, but only because I like your style, you remind me of when I was a young scamp, rolling bones with Monk Eastman’s gang and birddogging the society dames traipsing along under their parasols up on Fifth Avenue – and didn’t those tarts love it!”

“Look, Mr. Philpot –” I said.

“Ever make it with one of those rich broads in the back of a hansom cab on a fine spring evening?”

“Listen, Mr. Philpot,” I said. “I don’t have seventy-five dollars and I don’t want you to take the book off me. I just want to come into your shop and sit down for a little while.”

“There will be no idle loitering in my shop, my good fellow,” said Mr. Philpot. “I’m running a business you know, not a free clubhouse for young rapscallions.”

“I have a little money,” I said. “I could let you have it.”

“How much money?”

“I think six or seven dollars,” I said.

“So you want to shall we say, pay a rental for the privilege of sitting in my shop.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Then you had better run along and try to win some more dough in a faro game,” he said, “Because seven clams ain’t going to, in your parlance, ‘cut the mustard’, my boy.”

“Wow,” said Ben.

Wow?” said Mr. Philpot. “Are you a wild Indian? ‘Wow’?”

“Okay,” said Ferdinand. “First off, ‘wow’ is not a wild Indian term. You are thinking I believe of the expression ‘how’ which if I am not mistaken is Cherokee or maybe Comanche for ‘hello’.”

“Oh, so you’re an expert in savage Indian dialects as well as being a talkative fly, are you?”

“Second of all –” said Ferdinand.

“What else do you speak?” said Mr. Philpot. “Chinese? Ancient Etruscan? Venusian perhaps?”

Second of all,” said Ferdinand, in a louder and very emphatic voice.

“Second of all what?” said Mr. Philpot.

“Second of all,” said Ferdinand, “or come to think of it, maybe first of all –”

“Get to the point,” said Mr. Philpot.

“First of all and second of all,” said Ferdinand, “you are a mean and greedy cheap old bastard of a chiseler.”

“How dare you. I am an honest businessman.”

“Oh yeah? Arnie, show him your book.”

“My book?” I said.

“I mean open it up and show him.”

“Oh, okay,” I said. I raised the book up, facing Mr. Philpot, and riffled through the pages.

“What do you see, Mr. Philpot?” said Ferdinand.

“A book,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Yes, a ‘book’,” said Ferdinand. “And what is in this ‘book’?”

“I don’t know,” said Mr. Philpot. “Pages. Why are you grilling me like this?”

“And what is on those pages?” said Ferdinand, buzzing right up to Mr. Philpot’s face, almost bouncing off his little round glasses.

“Nothing, all right?” said Mr. Philpot. “Nothing is on those pages! They’re all blank! Okay? Is that what you want to hear, you importunate insect?”

“In other words, you bilked my buddy.”

“What did he want for five dollars?”

“Maybe a book with some actual words printed in it?”

Caveat emptor,” said Mr. Philpot. “I don’t recall ever precisely saying the book would have words printed in it.”

“We can report you to the Better Business Bureau,” said Ferdinand.

“You wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.”

“I don’t need legs, gramps. I got wings. And we will close this little clip joint of yours down so fast your bald little head will spin like a cue-ball that Willie Mosconi put the English on.”

“I assure you I don’t even know what any of that means.”

“You’ll be lucky to be selling rags and bones out of a pushcart on the Bowery after our lawyer gets through with you.”

“Lawyer?” said Mr. Philpot. “I see no need to involve lawyers in this matter.”

“Then play ball,” said Ferdinand.

“Oh, hell,” said Mr. Philpot. “Look, do you want your lousy five bucks back, Mr. Walker? Is that what this is all about?”

“No,” I said. “I just want to come into your shop out of the rain, for just a little while.”

“Only if you consider buying something.”

“Okay, fine,” I said. “I’ll consider it.”

“Why didn’t you say so in the first place? My shop is always open to late-night prospective customers. Won’t you please all come in, gentlemen?”

“Jesus Christ,” said Ferdinand.

“What’s that, my wingèd friend?” said Mr. Philpot.

“Nothing, pops. Let’s go into your shop. I’d like to see this place.”

“Yes, of course.”

Mr. Philpot stepped back and waved his little pudgy hand, and I stepped through, Ferdinand flying in with me, and Ben following.

Mr. Philpot closed the door, and the clattering noise of the downpour immediately became muffled.

“Please be seated, gentlemen,” he said. “And perhaps you would like to join me in a glass of Amontillado. And, yes,” he looked at Ferdinand, who was lazily looping around, looking things over, “I offer this refreshment free, gratis, and for nothing.”

“Sure, pops, I could go for a little Amontillado,” said Ferdinand.

“Splendid,” said Mr. Philpot.

“What’s Amontillado?” said Ben.

“Sherry, big guy,” said Ferdinand. “Good sherry. We’re not talking Harvey’s Bristol Cream.”

Sherry,” said Ben. “Say, Mr. Philpot, you wouldn’t have any rum in stock, would you?”

“Rum,” said Mr. Philpot. “Yes, in point of fact I do have some rum. British Royal Navy issue, cask-aged since the Napoleonic wars. Would you like some?”

“Bring it on,” said Ben. “So, anyway, you guys were probably wondering how I survived floating around in my Mae West in the middle of a monsoon in the Sulu Sea –”

“Oh Christ,” said Ferdinand.

“No, this is a good one,” said Ben. “This was how I wound up becoming the sex-slave of the Filipina lace-panty harlot commandos of Zamboanga.”

“Oh, my fucking God,” said Ferdinand. “Mr. Philpot, tell ya what, I think I’ll skip the Amontillado and take some of that rum, too, please, and thank you very much.”

(Continued here; we have several large cardboard boxes filled with Arnold’s marble copybooks which we haven’t even opened yet.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for a rigorously up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, now available for your convenience on your Kindle©.)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 388: downpour

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in Greenwich Village’s Kettle of Fish tavern, where he has just been struck down by a roundhouse thwack from a lady’s purse…

(Kindly click here to read our previous thrilling episode; go here to return to that long-ago and faraway very first chapter of this 63-volume Gold View Award™-winning autobiography.)

“A steaming mug of hot cocoa prepared with Fox’s U-bet™, a plate of Uneeda™ Biscuits slathered generously with Chee Whiz™, and – the most important ingredient of all – a volume of Arnold Schnabel’s stupendous and towering
chef-d'œuvre: such indeed is a recipe for ecstasy!”  – Harold Bloom, in the Maxim Literary Supplement.

I fell into oblivion, and when I awoke – oddly enough not in severe pain – I was lying on my back on the floor, and Ben’s face loomed above mine from my right side. 

“Bowza boong gonga wonnie?” he said, obviously speaking in some exotic language, I knew not why. I decided to ask him.

Wazza beega mogga langa?” I said, asking my question apparently in the same obscure foreign language.

Ma gogga?” replied Ben, whatever that meant.

I decided to go back to sleep. I was lying in a cobblestone gutter next to a dark factory, it was uncomfortable, but no one was around, and I thought if I could just rest here for a bit I could get up and try to find my bed, but just when I was sinking into complete oblivion again someone started batting my cheeks with a ham.

Mog ba,” I said. “Mog ba.”

Monga moo,” said a voice, and the ham thwacked my face again.

I woke up.

“Stop that,” I said, in English, because Ben’s hand was raised, about to slap me again.

“Oh, good, you’re coming round,” he said.

“Yeah, he’s all right, I told you,” said Ferdinand, who was hovering around above my face.

“She really caught you a good one, boy,” said Ben, who was squatting to my right and leaning over me. He was smiling.

“Suckered you good,” said Ferdinand. “What’d you do to this dame, anyway?”

“Well,” I said, and then I stopped. I wasn’t quite clear on what I had done to her.

Way up high, almost hidden by swirling clouds of smoke, I saw a giant looking down at me, but it turned out it was only the rude bartender in his white shirt and his apron and his enormous stomach.

“Yeah, he’s all right,” his voice thundered down. “He’ll live.”

Suddenly Emily was there kneeling next to me, on my left side, stroking my forehead.

“I’m sorry, Porter,” she said. She was crying, and black streaks oozed from her eyes and over her cheeks. “Can you ever forgive me?”

“Sure,” I said.

Amazingly I was still not in great pain from the mighty thwack she had given me, and then I remembered the ambrosia-laced bock beer I had drunk, and I imagined and hoped that this relatively painless state would last for at least as long as the ambrosia suffused my corporeal being.

“How ya doin’ there, buddy,” said a deep voice from another giant, and this time it was my publisher – or at least my alter ego Porter’s publisher – Julian Smythe, standing up above me to my left, leaning slightly down toward me and holding a briefcase, and also down there just beyond where the toes of my work shoes pointed up I saw Bunny Wilson, and Robert Frost and Eddie Guest. I had attracted a crowd.

“All right, let’s get him on his feet, boys,” said the bartender. “Can’t leave him lyin’ there on the floor all night. It don’t look good.”

Strong hands grabbed both my upper arms, and I felt myself rising up, up, the faces all around me a blur as if I were on a Ferris wheel, and then I was standing, Ben holding my right arm and Julian my left, and I flinched because Emily was standing in front of me and she was reaching both her hands toward my throat, but it turned out that she wasn’t trying to strangle me, but was only straightening the knot of my tie.

“Your nice grey tie that I bought you at Macy’s Men’s,” she said. “Hey, did you vomit  on it?”

“Um,” I said.

“Yeah, he threw up earlier –” said Ferdinand. “after goddam swallowing me with some beer!”

Emily just ignored what Ferdinand said, and the fact that it was a fly saying it. Maybe she thought it was someone else speaking, a human being. To tell the truth I don’t think she was really listening to anyone but herself. 

“I’m so sorry, Porter,” she said. “But you’re so terribly cruel.”

She was slipping into that English accent of hers again, or maybe it was more like a Bette Davis accent.

“Okay, look, you two,” said the bartender, what was his name? Vito, “if you’re gonna have a lover’s quarrel take it somewheres else.”

Emily turned to the bartender, opening her purse as she did so.

“He toyed with my feelings,” she said.

“Well, that wasn’t very nice,” said Vito.

Emily reached into her purse. For an awful moment I thought she was going to pull out one of those little automatics women always have in movies, but she only took out a lace-trimmed handkerchief and then snapped the purse shut again.

“These young louts are like that,” said Robert Frost. “No respect for the female gender.”

“Love ‘em and leave ‘em, hey, Porter?” said Eddie Guest.

“I was the same way when I was young,” said Bunny Wilson.

All three of them had drinks or beers in their hands, and as one they raised them and drank.

In the meantime Emily had licked a corner of her handkerchief, and now she was rubbing my tie with it.

“Don’t listen to these filthy old men, Porter,” she said. “I know you can’t help yourself.”

“Would you like to sit down, old man?” said Julian.

“No,” I said. “I have to go to Philpot’s.”

“What the hell is Philpot’s,” he said.

“It’s a book shop across the street,” said Ben.

“And what the hell do you want to go to a book shop for, Porter?” said Julian.

“Um,” I said.

“Oh, your nice tie!” said Emily.

“It’s only a little beer,” said Ferdinand. “It’ll come out.”

Once again Emily ignored the talking fly. Yes, I think she really wasn’t what you would call a good listener. But again, I’m the same way, so I shouldn’t pass judgment.

“Okay, look,” I said, “I’ll get the tie cleaned later.”

“Do you promise me, Porter?” she said. “Promise me you’ll have it cleaned?”

“I promise,” I said.

“I’ll make sure he gets it cleaned,” said Ferdinand.

“Who said that?” said Emily.

“Okay, look,” I said. “I promise I’ll get my tie cleaned. But I have to go now.”

“Where?” she said.

“To Philpot’s,” I said.

“What is Philpot’s?”

“I just said,” said Ben. “It’s a book shop across the street.”

“Why on earth do you want to go to a book shop at this hour?”

“I was wondering exactly the same thing,” said Julian.

“Listen, guys,” I said, “I think you can let go of my arms now.”

“You’re quite sure?” said Julian. “That really was quite a wallop you took.”

“I didn’t mean to hit him so hard!” said Emily. She opened her purse again and dropped the handkerchief into it. Then she paused and took out a large jar of Pond’s cold cream. She held it up for everyone to see, and shrugged.

“There ya go,” said Ben. “Might as well’ve had a brick inside there.

“I’m really so dreadfully sorry,” said Emily, and now she was in her full-blown English voice, it was way beyond Bette Davis now. She dropped that big thick jar back into her purse, then snapped it shut in a decisive sort of way.

“Maybe we should take you to the hospital, Porter,” said Julian. “Just to, you know, make sure there’s no permanent brain damage or whatever.”

“Oh, pish,” said Emily. “He’ll be all right.”

“Yeah,” I said, “please let me go, Julian. I’m fine.”

“He’s fine,” said Vito.

“A strapping hard-headed youth,” said Robert Frost.

“Strong as a young ox,” said Bunny.

“And as randy I’ll warrant,” said Eddie Guest.

“All right, I got customers,” said Vito, and he went away.

“Okay, please let me go, guys,” I said.

“All right,” said Julian. “Excuse me,” he said, addressing Ben, “what’s your name, buddy?”

“Ben,” said Ben. “Ben Blagwell. They call me Big Ben Blagwell.”

“I can see why,” said Julian. “I’m Julian Smythe, Porter’s publisher.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Smythe. Y’know, if you’re looking for some good real-life stories, I got a million of ‘em. I’ve battled and brawled my way across the storm-tossed seven seas, and–”

“Ben,” I said, “please.”

“Sorry, pal” said Ben. “Maybe we can talk about it later, Julian. I ain’t much of a writer, but maybe you could hire a secretary to write my yarns down like in shorthand while I spin ‘em, and –”

“Ben!” I said.

“Okay, sorry, buddy,” said Ben.

“All right,” said Julian, “we can talk about your proposal later if you like, Ben, but –”

“Great,” said Ben. “Any time, Julian.”

“But, here’s the thing,” said Julian, “getting back to the present problem, I suggest that I let go of Porter’s arm first, while you hold on, just to make sure he doesn’t collapse in a heap. So get a good grip on your arm.”

“Okay,” said Ben, and he squeezed my biceps so hard it felt as if it were about to burst like a ripe tomato. “I got him, pal.”

Julian let go of my left arm, and I’ll admit I probably sagged a bit on that side, but I didn’t collapse.

“You okay there, buddy?” said Ben.

“Yes, really, I’m fine, Ben,” I said. “You can let go of me. You’re hurting my arm.”

“You sure?”

“Yes,” I said. “Positive.”

“Okay, pal.”

He let go of my arm. I didn’t fall.

“Okay,” I said. I rubbed the inflamed area of my right biceps with my left hand. “Let’s go.”

“Are you quite certain you forgive me?” said Emily. She hadn’t gone anywhere.

“Yes,” I said.

Everyone but Vito was still there, staring at me.

“Say it,” said Emily. “Say it oh dear Porter.”

“Say what?” I said, and I’m afraid a note of annoyance may have crept into my voice.

“Say you forgive me,” she said.

“I forgive you,” I said.

“No grudges,” said Eddie Guest, “that’s the best way.”

“Tell a woman what she wants to hear, that’s the best way,” said Bunny Wilson.

“I heard that, you gross old man!” said Emily.

“Easy there, Bunny,” said Robert Frost. “She’ll wallop you next, man!”

Emily turned back to me.

“Go then, Porter,” she said. “Go to whatever little trollop it is this time!”

Julian had been lighting a cigarette, and he clicked his lighter shut.

“Come on, Emily, let’s have a nightcap, and then it’s homeward bound for me.”

“At least you’re honest about being a cad, Julian,” said Emily.

“I am?” he said.

Emily turned back to me.

“Why are you still here? Isn’t she waiting for you?”

“Okay, then,” I said. “Well, good night.”

“By the way, Porter, old man,” said Julian. “I’ve got your typescript right in here, safe and sound.”

He patted the briefcase he was carrying, which I now remembered was actually Emily’s briefcase. Not that I cared.

“That Porter’s book?” said Bunny. “This epic poem of his?”

“Yep,” said Julian. “Swell poem, too.”

“What do you know, you haven’t read it,” said Emily.

“That’s why I employ you, dear Emily,” said Julian.

“Ha ha, that’s my kind of publisher!” said Robert Frost.

“Okay, let’s go, Ben,” I said.

“Arnie,” said Ferdinand, buzzing in front of my face, “speaking of books, ain’t you forgetting something?”

“What?” I said.

“Your blank book.”


I turned and looked down at the floor, swiveling my head back and forth. (The floor was filthy by the way, which meant of course that I was filthier than I had been a few minutes ago, but I didn’t care.)

“Where is it?” I said, yelled, whined. “Did anyone see this green book I was carrying? It was a green hardback –”

“Hey. Sport,” said Eddie Guest, and he held up my book, The Ace of Death by Horace P. Sternwall, my book full of empty blank pages, my only hope. “Looking for this by chance?”

“Oh, thank you,” I said. I rushed over and reached for the book but he pulled it away.

“Hold on,” he said. “Promise me.”


“Promise me that you will write well.”

I said nothing. This was one promise I could not make, and the ambrosia I had drunk prevented me from just going ahead and vowing falsely through my teeth.

“Oh for God’s sake give him the book,” said Robert Frost.

“Oh, all right,” said Eddie Guest. He held the book toward me and I snatched it away.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Go to your whore now,” yelled Emily, but Julian was pulling her by her arm, toward the bar.

I turned around.

“Now can we go?” said Ben.

“Yes,” I said. “Before something else happens.”

I limped over to the door, opened it. The rain was crashing down, even harder than before. It still looked like we were under the Niagara Falls, but I could vaguely make out the buildings across the street, and the electric lights behind the windows of Mr. Philpot’s shop.

“Christ, we’re gonna get soaked out here,” said Ben.

“Tough guy,” said Ferdinand. “Afraid of a little rain.”

“I am a tough guy,” said Ben. “That don’t mean I like getting soaked. Arnie, what say we have another drink or two, just till this downpour dies down?”

“No, Ben,” I said.

“He’s on a mission, big guy,” said Ferdinand.

“A mission,” said Ben. “Like one time I had to paddle into this tropical island of sin where some buddies of mine had been made slaves by these lesbian harlot love-pirates –”

“Ben,” I said. “Look, I want to get this over with.”

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand, and he flew into my ear. “Okay, Arnie, let’s do it.”

“All right,” I said. I stuck the book inside my jacket, and held it there with my arm.

I took a breath and then dashed out into that crashing downpour.

(Continued here, bashing on regardless.)

(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find a rather frequently updated listing of all other available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, now available for a mere pittance on your Kindle©.)

Friday, March 7, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 387: slammed

Let’s return to that Greenwich Village hotspot the Kettle of Fish on this hot wet night in August of 1957, where we rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his stout companions Big Ben Blagwell and Ferdinand the talking fly…

(Please go here to read our immediately preceding chapter; click here to to return to the fog-shrouded ancient beginnings of this 79-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“We have it on the authority of Arnold Schnabel’s own
chef-d'œuvre that he preferred his surname to be pronounced not to rhyme with ‘able’ or ‘Abel’ but with ‘wobble’ or ‘bobble’, as in the hypothetical sentence ‘The gait of an Arnold Schnabel sentence may sometimes wobble, and indeed sometimes our author seems fair to bobble the metaphorical ball of meaning, but in the end, sometimes a page or two later – when that period sometimes almost abruptly appears – all becomes clear, and, yes, beautiful.”  – Harold Bloom, in the Boxing Illustrated Literary Supplement.

“Okay then, let’s go,” I said.

It felt odd, but I seemed to be taking command. 

Maybe it was the ambrosia-laced bock I had just drunk. 

Maybe I was just getting fed up with what felt like years of nonsensical delays.

“Just one question though,” said Ben. “Where we going?”

“To a bookshop across the street,” said Ferdinand. “Mr. Peabody’s Book Shop.”

“’Philpot’,” I said. “Mr. ‘Philpot’s’ Book Shop.”

“’Philpot’,” said Ferdinand. “I stand corrected.”

“We’re going to a fucking ‘book shop’,” said Ben.

“There’s a reason,” said Ferdinand.

“It better be a good one,” said Ben.

“You act like it’s some great hardship to hit a book store now and then,” said Ferdinand.

“I wouldn’t call it a hardship, exactly,” said Ben. “But a book shop?”

“You’re really not a very big reader, are you, Ben?” said Ferdinand.

“Look, pal, like I told you before – I read. I read a lot, especially on them long ocean voyages, out on the high seas, doing a man’s job, on them long lonely nights without a dame in sight, when even that new young ship’s steward starts to look good. I read.”

“I don’t mean like Man’s Adventure magazine, that kind of crap,” said Ferdinand.

Man’s Adventure magazine is not crap,” said Ben. “There are a lot of like historical articles in that magazine.”

“Oh really,” said Ferdinand. “Like ‘I Was Held Prisoner by the Jap Love-Harlot Torture Squad’?”

“You read that one?”

“Oh, Jesus Christ almighty,” said Ferdinand.

Suddenly Norman Mailer’s back straightened up, he shook his head and then spun around on his stool.

Jesus Christ,” he said. “The Almighty. But there is no Almighty. Only our struggling savage souls, singing sad songs susurrant, sometimes screaming, soaring to the stars and thence sinking sibilant into the sewers of sorrowful space.”

“What?” said Ben.

“Yeah, what the fuck, Norman,” said Ferdinand.

I said nothing. I had nothing to say.

Norman blinked, and then his face seemed to fall in on itself. His shoulders slumped and his head sagged. His eyes closed, but at least he didn’t fall off the stool.

“Well, that was one Planter’s Punch too many,” said Ferdinand.

“I think you’re right, Ferdy,” said Ben. “Okay, let’s go to this ‘book shop’.”

“You say it like it’s a dirty word.”

“I got nothing against book shops,” said Ben. “But like, don’t you have to wear a suit to get in one? Or at least like a dress uniform?”

“What the fuck are you talking about? We ain’t talking about dinner at ‘21’. It’s just a place you go to buy a goddam book or two.”

“I realize that,” said Ben. “I was only asking a civil question. Jeeze, you don’t got to jump all down my throat –”

“Wait a minute,” said Ferdinand.

“Hey, guys,” I said. “Can we continue this discussion on the way? I really want to get going.”

“Just one minute, Arnie,” said Ferdinand. He flew around in a circle and then stopped a few inches in front of Ben’s nose. “Ben,” he said, “let me ask you a question, have you ever actually been inside of a book shop?”

“Well, what do you mean exactly by ‘book shop’?” said Ben.

“A shop which sells books,” said Ferdinand.

“Books and nothing else?” said Ben.

“Sometimes magazines, too,” said Ferdinand. “Maybe maps and such other sundries. But primarily books.”

“Okay,” said Ben. “Fair enough.” He took a drag on his Sweet Caporal. “But before I answer your question, may I first ask you a question?”

I sighed, but Ferdinand said, “Sure, big guy. Ask away.”

“Let me ask you this question,” said Ben. He tapped his cigarette with a finger, and watched the ash float down to the floor before continuing. “My question is,” he said, “would the book rack in a drug store or say in a bus station count as a bookshop?”

“Oh my fucking God,” said Ferdinand.

“What,” said Ben.

“You have never been inside a book shop, have you, Ben?”

“Well, here’s my thing,” said Ben, “when I have bought books – like Man’s Adventure, Man’s Life, Man’s Action, Man’s Exploits, Man to Man –”

“All right, all right, I get it, go on,” said Ferdinand.

“I am going on,” said Ben. “Like I say, when I have bought one of these books, it’s usually like always when I’m at the  drug store picking up a carton of Sweet Caporals, y’know? So I’m like killing two birds with one stone – buy some smokes, grab a good book while I’m at it, especially one that’s like got some good, you know, historical stories, like this one I read about these French lace panty commandos that broke into this gestapo castle of torture, and  –”

“Oh, my God,” said Ferdinand. 

“What?” said Ben. “You got something against drug stores now?”

“Okay,” said Ferdinand. “What about libraries? You ever go into a public library?”

“Well, you need a card for that, don’t you?” said Ben.

“A card.”

“Yeah,” said Ben. “Don’t you need some kind of special card to go into one of them liberries?”

“Okay,” said Ferdinand. “Fine. I have heard enough. Let’s go.”

What?” said Ben. “Just ‘cause I buy my books in a drug store? What’s it matter? A book’s a book, right, Arnie?”

“Sure,” I said. “Okay, let’s go.”

“What’s it matter where you buy it, right?”

“Yes, you’re right, Ben,” I said. “Now –”

“Mwaahh,” said Norman Mailer, and his head popped up from his chest, his eyes opening wide.

“Hey, we’re taking off, Norman,” said Ben. “It was good jawboning with you, buddy.”

He gave Norman’s shoulder a pat with his great hand, and Norman swayed on his stool but somehow didn’t fall off it.

“Mwah?” he said.

“Okay, goodbye, uh, Norman,” I said, and I turned about-face and started hobbling away through the crowd.

“You believe that idiot Ben?” said Ferdinand, who had flown into my ear.

“He means well,” I said in a low voice. “He just hasn’t had the benefit of a good education.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” said Ferdinand.

Ben had now caught up with us.

“What are you guys talking about?” he said.

“We were just talking about how fucking unbelievable you are,” said Ferdinand.

“Unbelievable?” said Ben. “I think I’m a very believable character. A little bigger than life maybe, but, hey, that’s me.”

“Sure, Ben,” said Ferdinand.

“Love me or leave me,” said Ben. “I’m just a big brawling bruiser and a booze-imbibing, broad-banging battler –”

“Okay, enough!” said Ferdinand. “Christ, you’re as bad as Norman over there with the alliteration already.”

“A litter what?” said Ben.

There were two people perhaps above all in all the universes I had passed through whom I not only had no desire to see again but whom I actively wished never to see again, ever:

One was the prince of darkness, under any of his names or guises.

And the other one was the supposed heroine of this fictional universe I was now attempting to escape from.

And there she was standing in front of me, bedraggled and wet in her wrinkled grey jacket and skirt, her dark hair now darker and wet and flattened on her skull, her eye make-up and her lipstick smeared so that her face seemed out of focus, like a face on a TV set with a bad reception.

“Well, hello, big boy,” said Emily.

As surprised and shocked and despairing as I was, nevertheless I was just about to say hello back to her as politely as I could under the circumstances, but I was prevented from doing so as she swung her hard black purse upward in a roundhouse arc and slammed me on the side of my face with it, felling me as suddenly and as surely as a sharp right hook from the great Marciano would have done. 

(Continued here, because Arnold may be down but, don’t worry, he’ll get up again.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for a rigorously current listing of all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©, this week’s episode sponsored in part by Uneeda© Biscuits: “Try your Uneeda Biscuits next time with just a schmear of your favorite cheese spread!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author of “Cheese and Crackers” and Other Poems About Snacks; the Olney Community College Press.)