Friday, April 11, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 391: book

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, alone at last, at least for the nonce, here in Philpot’s Rare Book Shop in old Greenwich Village, on a night of torrential rain and eldritch horror in August of 1957...

(Please go here to read our preceding thrilling episode; if you’ve finally completely given up all hope of living a sensible life you may then click here to return to the not-quite mythical beginnings of this 59-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“I have to say today was a good day. Not only did I not have to use my AK, but the postman delivered a brand new volume of Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling and magisterial
chef-d'œuvre. Which meant that I at once canceled all my activities for the day so I could stay home and devour said volume. Call me crazy.”  – Harold Bloom, in The Guns & Ammo Literary Supplement.

I had to start somewhere, so I carefully wrote down, in capital block letters:


Then I went down a couple of spaces and tried to begin the book proper. I probably actually furrowed my brow, and then just dove right in:

He needed to get back to his own world, I wrote. He had been stuck in this insane fictional world for what seemed like at least two years, but which was probably in fact – if one could even speak of facts in this universe – only an hour or so. 

I paused.

Had it really only been an hour? I glanced at my wrist, but Porter, unlike myself (or at least unlike what I liked to think of as “myself”) didn’t wear a watch. And, anyway, even if I had a watch it still wouldn’t help me because I didn’t know what time it was when I had arrived in this particular world.

And, speaking of time, I realized I was wasting it. I should be busily writing, swiftly and concisely, instead of wasting time thinking about things that didn’t matter.

I looked at what I had written.

I wondered, should I have put it in the first person, since after all I was talking about “me”, or this particular version of me?

Perhaps so.

And besides, after all, by writing in the third person wasn’t I falling into the trap of treating my life as if it were fictional, of looking on myself as a character in a novel (and a rather shallowly-drawn character at that, in a boring novel) instead of a flesh-and-blood actual human being? Wouldn’t it be preferable right from the start to write what I hoped to write in the form of a true story – as a memoir, let us say?

I closed the cover of the book over my finger and looked at the embossed dark blue letters printed there on the green background.

The Ace of Death

a novel of despair and terror


Horace P. Sternwall

“A novel”.

Well, there you go, the thing was supposed to be a novel, it said so right on the cover. So who was I to arbitrarily change the book from fiction to non-fiction? And after all again, since what I intended to write was in fact an eventuality which had not yet occurred – i.e., my successful return to my own body and my own state of reality, such as it was – and, indeed, an eventuality which at this rate might never occur – wouldn’t it be more essentially truthful to present these words as “fiction”?

Who knew? Certainly not I. 

But, all other considerations aside, now that I thought about it I hated to start crossing words out already so early in the game, so I decided just to go ahead and keep the third-person point of view.

I opened the book up again and stared at those few words I had already written, with all that blank white space beneath them. 

I started a new paragraph.

The only way he (I wrote) – that is “Arnold Schnabel” – could think of to escape this absurd fictional world was to write his way out of it.

I stopped again.

I felt as if I were getting close to what I wanted, to what might work, but I knew I needed to get to the point. Cut out all the explanations and beating around the bush and just write out what it was that I wanted to happen. 

In other words, to put it bluntly, stop pussyfooting around.

I had always disliked novelists who wrote long boring introductory chapters, telling you more than you ever wanted to know about their characters, their backgrounds, their hometowns, sometimes even the backgrounds of the characters’ families, going back for generations. 

Why not just start right off with the good stuff?

So I started to write again:

And so, to that end, pushing aside some books and magazines to make some room on Mr. Philpot’s cluttered desk {which I had actually just done, although I forgot to mention it, because after all I’m really not a very good writer}, he opened the blank book and took the ballpoint pen from his shirt pocket.

I stopped.

I was doing it again, writing a lot of boring and unnecessary description instead of getting to the point, to the most important part, the part where I write myself out of this universe and back to my own.

So how to put it? 

He wrote
{I could write} the words: “He wrote the words which would return him to his own universe. And these words were –”
I paused again.

I had to get this right. If I worded the words wrong my whole plan might fall apart.

I looked at the page again.

“And these words were –”


Presto, I am back in my own world?

Why not? That was simple. And direct. To the point.

But I thought the presto might be a bad idea, I didn’t know why. It just sounded a little too frivolous. Maybe better to write something like:

And these words were: I am now back in my own world.

And I was just about to write these words when I remembered the state I had been in when I left my own world: 

Extreme, excruciating lower-back pain, brought on from trying to open a stuck window, pain which had even caused me to pass out, and from which unconscious state I had entered this present universe.

Did I really want to return to that state? I didn’t mind the unconsciousness so much, unconsciousness wasn’t so bad as long as one were not in the midst of a nightmare, but what about when I came to? What if I had done more than just throw my back out? Maybe I had done permanent damage to my sacroiliac, or dislocated a disc? Maybe I would be crippled, or condemned to a lifetime of chronic lower back agony.

In short, I felt cowardice suffusing my being.

A little voice in my head, I assumed it belonged to me, spoke up:

Stop this procrastinating, Arnold, and just do it! Otherwise you’re liable never to return to your so-called and vaunted “real” world!

Okay, I replied to the little voice. You’re right. What’s a little back pain? After all –

You’re stalling again, said the voice. Stop fucking around and just do it.

Now I wondered if the voice really did “belong” to me. I never said the word “fuck” in any of its permutations, although I would have to admit I thought it sometimes.

That’s because you’re a pathetic prig, said the voice. This is the inner you, the real you, the one who hasn’t been stifled by society’s artificial norms and by the brainwashing of the Roman Catholic Church.

Okay, I said.

Good, said the voice. Now get to work.

All right, I said. Here goes.

I took a breath and stared at the page, and I was just about to start writing when I heard Ben’s voice.

“Arnie,” he said. “Wake the fuck up and move some of them papers and magazines over.”

I looked up, to my left.

Ben was standing there with a big wooden cask over one of his enormous shoulders.

Mr. Philpot stood next to him.

“Put it down gently, big fella,” said Mr. Philpot. “Don’t want my old desk to collapse under its weight.”

“I’ll put it down as soon as Arnie clears some room for it,” said Ben.

“Oh, sorry,” I said, quickly closing my unfinished book. “What should I, where should I –”

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” said Mr. Philpot, and he went over to the opposite side of the desk and cleared a space right in front of his chair, pushing the books and magazines away with both of his little hands. “Here,” he said. “Just lay it down right here.”

“You got it, granddad,” said Ben, and as if it were nothing he hefted this great cask off his shoulder and laid it gently down on the desk.

“At last,” said Ferdinand, who was suddenly zooming eagerly in circles around the keg. “At long fucking last. Now let’s tap this sucker and get our rum drunk on!”

I recapped the pen and put it on the table next to my book.

I suppose I could have just ignored the commotion and tried to continue with my proposed task, but I knew this course was impossible at the moment. 

My concentration, never very stable at best, had been shattered, like a delicate crystal wine glass thrown with full force against a brick wall.

Perhaps a small drink of rum wouldn’t hurt?

(Continued here, and onward, almost but not quite interminably.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for what one hopes to be an up-to-date listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; this project made possible in part through the sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar© at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery: “Try our house special ‘Bob’s Egg Cream’, made with Fox’s U-bet™ chocolate syrup with a shot of your choice of rum, vodka or whiskey, @.50¢ during Passover.”)


Unknown said...

Follow that train of thought, Arnold. You've started writing, don't stop. Safe inside your head, wave a handkerchief at your evil companions. You'll see them tomorrow.

Dan Leo said...

Great advice, Kathleen!