Saturday, May 31, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 396: the voice

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the dusty storage room of Philpot’s Rare Book Shop in old Greenwich Village, on a rainy and fateful night in August of 1957, where he has encountered a talking book… 

(Kindly click here to read our previous chapter; those with nothing better to do may go here to return to the only dimly-remembered beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 76-volume autobiography.)

“Finally the summer vacation has arrived and I can pass my days as I am wont to do and as I love to do, sitting on my porch rocker in Cape May – that town so full of the immortal spirit of Arnold Schnabel – immersing myself in the subtle glories of his sprawling (but somehow not sprawling enough) c
hef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in The Gentlemen’s Quarterly Literary Quarterly.

“’Not yet’?” said the voice. “That doesn’t evoke a shall we say optimistic frame of mind.”

“My frame of mind is not optimistic,” I said.

“Now, or always?”

“I wouldn’t want to say always,” I said, staring at the lurid cover of Rummies of the Open Road, which depicted a pack of people drinking and laughing in some sort of barroom, with several attractive young women in attendance, showing bare legs and almost bare bosoms.

“You like what you see on the cover there?” said the voice.

“It’s okay,” I said.

“Just okay? I think I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘Why don’t I ever wander into fun places like this in real life?’ Aren’t you?”

He or it was correct, but I didn’t want to get into it with him, or it.

“Look,” I said to the voice in the book, “I really hate to be rude, but I have to go, so, look, I’m just going to lay you down here –”

“Hold on, buddy,” said the voice. “What’s your big rush, anyway?”

I sighed, and this would make it my one thousandth and first sigh of the day. At this rate I would easily reach two thousand sighs before I got to bed, if I ever got to bed.

I suppose I started to say something, but then after all said nothing.

“What?” said the voice. “What can be so all-fired pressing, so life and death urgent that you can’t stop and talk like a civilized human being for one minute?”

“Um,” I said. “Uh –” How to explain to a talking book that I felt horribly uncomfortable talking with it? Would it or he or whatever is was be offended? “Um, look,” I went on, “uh, I, uh, you know –”

“May I ask you to speak up?” said the voice. “No one likes a mumbler.”

I realized I had in fact been whispering, although the voice in the book was speaking in normal conversational tones. I suppose I was whispering so that my friends and Mr. Philpot wouldn’t hear me. But why did I care if they heard me? This was a mystery to me at that moment and remains a mystery as I write this.

“Come on,” said the voice. “Spill. Get it off your chest. Probably do you good. People keep things bottled up inside it makes them crazy, or if not crazy it can cause ulcers, or constipation, sometimes other manifestations of –”

“I have to pee,” I said quickly, speaking right into his sentence in a manner I now realize was quite rude, but then consider the circumstances.

“What?” said the voice. “What was that?”

“I said,” I whispered, holding the book closer to my mouth so that I didn’t have to speak loudly. “I have to – you know –”

“No,” said the voice, “I don’t know, or else I wouldn’t ask. What did you say? You said you have to be somewhere?”

“Sort of,” I said.

“Where?” said the voice. “Where is it so all-fired important that you have to ‘be’ so urgently.”

“I have to be in the – facilities,” I said.

“The facilities,” said the voice.

“Yes,” I hissed. I know that writers of cheap fiction often say that someone hissed something, and usually it doesn’t really seem like an accurate term, but in this case I think what I did was pretty close to a hiss, because, again, look at the circumstances.

“You’re telling me you have to go to the bathroom,” said the voice.

“Yes,” I hissed or whispered or maybe just said after all.

“And I take it you don’t need to take a bath.”

“No,” I said. “I have to – to – you know –”

“Not defecate I hope.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “Just, you know –”


“Yes,” I said.


“Right,” I said.

“Pee in other words.”

“Exactly,” I said.

“Why didn’t you just say so?”

I sighed, and I won’t bother recording its numerical ranking among the day’s sighs. It wasn’t the first, and surely it was far from the last.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said the voice. “A purely natural function, at least for those possessed of a shall we say a corporeal host? A body in other words. You should be glad you have to pee. Disembodied spirits don’t pee. The dead don’t pee. Angels and devils don’t pee. The damned don’t pee, nor do those happy few who have ascended to –”

“Well, okay, there you have it,” I said, rudely interrupting again. “I have to pee, and I really have to go before I have an accident, so I’m just going to lay you back down –”

“Hold it.”

I had been starting to bend down to lay the book back on the stack of books that I had taken it from, right on top of an interesting-looking book called Return to Samarkand, also by Horace P. Sternwall, but I stopped.

What?” I said. “I told you, I really have to go.”

“No need to be churlish about it.”

“I apologize,” I said. “But I really –”

“Look, take me with you.”

“Take you with me?”

“Yeah, take me along.”

“To the, uh, rest room?”

“Um –”

“What?” said the voice. “You never took a book to the bathroom with you before?”

“Sure,” I said, “but only if I’m going to, you know –”

“Take a shit,” said the voice.

Insert a sigh here.

“Yes,” I said.

“Why is it, I wonder,” said the voice, “that people so like to read while voiding their bowels? What’s your theory?”

“I don’t have one,” I said.

“Is it that there’s something about the act of defecation that makes the mind and the soul more receptive to literature, to meditation, to deeper thought?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “All I know is I need to take a pee.”

“Take me with you.”


“Because I’m asking you to. You seem like a nice guy. Be regular. It won’t kill you.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“You don’t know that it won’t kill you?”

“Among other things, including everything, yes, I don’t know,” I said.

“Okay. Let me ask you a question,” said the voice. “Do you know how long I’ve been stuck in this book, buried under a stack of Tom Swift novels?”

“No, I have no idea,” I said.

“Me neither, actually,” said the voice. “Time means nothing when you’re trapped in the pages of a book. But it feels like a long time.”

I hesitated.

“I’m afraid,” I said.

“Join the club,” said the voice. “But I would do it for you. Complete stranger that you are. I don’t know, maybe I was just brought up that way. To help out my fellow man when I can. Especially of it’s no skin off my nose. But, hey, do what you’ve got to do –”

“All right,” I said.

“You mean all right you’ll take me?”

“Yes,” I said. “I give up.”

“Gee, you are a regular guy.”

“Thanks,” I said.

I straightened up and was about to go out the door with the book when the voice said, “Hey, don’t forget your glass.”

“My what?”

“You said you were carrying a glass before.”

“Oh, right,” I said.

The jelly glass was still there, on the floor. I bent over and picked it up.

“You got it?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Good. Let’s roll.”

I pressed the wall button, turning off the light, and went out the doorway, leaving the door open. 

Now that I was out in the shop proper again I became aware of the voices of my friends and Mr. Philpot, and realized that they had been talking all this time. They were speaking now in loud tones, laughing. I supposed the British navy rum was having its effect.

I turned to the right, and after about six or eight feet I came to another door. There was an old-looking tin sign on it, with the black letters “WC” on a yellow background. I put the book under my arm, turned the doorknob, and the door opened. I went in, found a light switch inside the door, pressed the button, and an electric light came on in a ceiling fixture. Sure enough, there was a toilet in here, with an overhead tank. There was even a washbasin and a mirror. I closed the door.

“Are we there?” said the voice.

“Yes,” I said.

“Okay then, put me down, put your glass down, and do what you have to do before you wet your pants.”

There was a ledge above the sink, under the mirror, and I laid the paperback and my jelly glass on it.

I hesitated again.

“What?” said the voice.

“I feel awkward,” I said. “With someone here.”

“I’m in a book,” said the voice. “I can’t see a thing. Now go ahead and do what you have to do and stop being so neurotic.”

By this time I really had no choice anyway, so I unzipped my jeans and took the book’s advice.

(Continued here, ever onward if not upward.)

(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find what might well be a current listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; now appearing simultaneously in the Collingswood Patch: “South Jersey’s last and best hope for some semblance of culture.”)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 395: rummies

Let’s return to quaint old Greenwich Village on a rainy night in August of 1957 and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel in Philpot's Rare Book Shop, as once again he goes in search not of the meaning of life but of something far more mundane… 

(Please go here to read our preceding thrilling episode; the adventurous in spirit may click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume memoir.)

“Already I find myself looking forward to summer vacation, and to days spent on the porch drinking iced tea and losing myself in the subtle and manifold mysteries of Arnold Schnabel’s towering
chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in The Cape May Star and Wave Literary Supplement.

I hadn’t gone halfway down that narrow and shadowy aisle of books when I suddenly stopped and thought: what am I doing?

Hadn’t I learned anything in my recent series of adventures? 

Did I really and truly expect to try to find the rest room in this old book shop and not have something bizarre occur?

But what was the alternative? 

The fact remained I was simultaneously extremely thirsty and in increasingly dire need of voiding my bladder.

I needed to drink water and I needed to pass water, probably not in that order, but, nevertheless, thus was my physical situation, and there was no escaping it.

I could of course simply swallow my pride and go back and ask Ben and Josh and Ferdinand to come with me to the rest room. They were my friends, and they might not be crazy about it, but they would come.

I could hear them back there, chatting in low voices. I couldn’t make out the gist of what they were saying, but I did distinctly hear Ben say the name “Arnie”, and then I heard Mr. Philpot mention “Mr. Walker”, my other name. Then after a few more words from Josh a gentle and general chuckling broke out and made its way down the stacks of books to my pricked-up ears.

So they were talking about me, probably not in a malicious way, but in that way friends talk about an absent friend who is  slightly or more than slightly eccentric.

And so.

And so what?

And so what if I turned back to ask for help and, when I emerged out of that small but dense forest of books, what if my three friends and Mr. Philpot suddenly fell silent, staring at me, the subject of their whispered raillery?

That would be embarrassing.

But would the embarrassment be worse than what might befall me if I continued on my way alone to the rest room?

I had no way of knowing.

With a sigh I resigned myself to the few shreds of pride which still clung in tatters to my soul, and so I forged on. 

When I got to the end of the aisle of books I saw a doorway, the door open, with blackness within.

I stopped again. I suddenly remembered what had happened the last time I had been in a men’s room, notably: the prince of darkness speaking menacingly from within the turbid water in a toilet bowl.

What if that very prince of darkness were waiting for me in here? That last time I had managed successfully to flush him away, but who was to say I would be so lucky this time?

In fact I had encountered him even more recently, in his guise of Nicky Boskins, the alleged publicist, right downstairs at that Valhalla bar. As Ben had pointed out to me, I had been blatantly rude to him, and so now Nicky or Lucky or Lucifer or whatever his name was probably wanted possession of my immortal soul more than ever.

I could hear Ben talking on the other side of the shop, on the other side of all those thousands of books, speaking in a louder voice now, then I heard Ferdinand’s voice, and Josh’s, and Mr. Philpot’s. Ben said something, I thought I heard him mention my name (“Arnie”) and then Josh seemed to reply, and there was a great burst of laughter all round.

At least they were having a good time.

Talking, laughing, drinking.

I picked up a whiff of tobacco smoke, both cigarette and pipe smoke. So they were smoking as well.

Why couldn’t I relax like that and have a good time? 

But it was so hard to relax when one was trapped in an alien world.

And so hard to relax when one needed simultaneously to drink and to urinate.

So hard to relax when one was paralyzed with fear and indecision.

So hard to relax when faced with the possibility of being dragged screaming down to the everlasting fires of hell.

I sighed, for exactly the thousandth time that day.

The inescapable fact was that I really had to urinate. That mug of ambrosia-laced bock seemed ready to burst from my bladder now any second.

And then after urinating I needed to drink some water, and plain tap water would do, out of the jelly glass which I still held in my right hand, not having accidentally dropped and broken it, yet.

I tried to be reasonable.

My friends after all were just on the other side of the shop, not more than ten yards away.

I would use the facilities, keeping the door slightly ajar, and if anything untoward happened I would simply holler and scream for help, as loud as I could.

Josh and Ben and Ferdinand were my friends. If I called for help, they would come running, or in Ferdinand’s case, come flying.

I took a deep breath, and went forward, into that dark doorway. 

The door opened inward, and before turning on the light I closed the door to about six inches from the jamb. Of course it would have been better to leave the door wide open, but something in me just wouldn’t allow me to use a toilet with the door open all the way.

I felt along the side of the doorway for a light switch, found a panel with two buttons, and pressed the one that was protruding.

A light came on overhead, and I turned.

This was like no bathroom or rest room I had ever seen.  

This was a small room filled with boxes and wall shelves and stacks and piles of books with a dusty plain light fixture hanging from the ceiling.

But where was the toilet?

Why had Mr. Philpot lied to me? 

Was this a trap?

And then I remembered. 

He had said to go past the doorway I had just gone through. He had said to go down to the left, to the next door I saw.

What a fool I was, couldn’t take the simplest of directions.

Well, no harm done, I would just flick off the light, leave this room and head down to the left, or to the right from the direction I would now be coming from.

I turned and stepped back to the doorway, and I was just putting my hand on the doorknob when a voice spoke.

“Hey, buddy.”

 I froze. Well, not literally, but I became immobile.

“Buddy,” said the voice, it was a man’s voice, from somewhere to my right.

I turned and looked, but saw only stacks of books and cardboard boxes, and shelves on the walls filled with more books and boxes.

“I’m over here,” said the voice. “Under that stack of Tom Swift books.”

Sure enough there was a two-foot pile of books against the dirty grey wall, and the top six or seven books were uniform hardback editions of Tom Swift novels. The one on top was Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle, by Victor Appleton.

“Lift up the Tom Swift books,” said the voice.

“I – I’m not sure that I should,” I said.

“Hey, pal, come on, help a guy out.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Come on, don’t be an asshole. I would do it for you.”

I hesitated still.

“Buddy,” said the voice, “look, I’m sorry I called you an asshole.”

“That’s okay,” I said.

“So, please, just lift up those Tom Swift books, would you?”

“Well, I’m holding a glass,” I said.

“Then put the glass down,” said the voice.

I bent over and put the jelly glass on the floor in front of the stack of books.

“Did you put the glass down?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Great. Well done. Now pick up those Tom Swift books, but just the Tom Swift books.”

After another brief hesitation I lifted up the Tom Swift books with both hands.

“Where do I put them?” I said.

“Just put them on the floor,” said the voice.

“There’s not a whole lot of space on the floor,” I said.

“Anywhere, just put them down, okay?”

Right next to the pile of books was a stack of 1920s National Geographics, and I laid the Tom Swift books on that.

“Did you lay them down?” said the voice.

“Yes,” I said.

“Great,” said the voice. “You’re doing fine. Now, do you see the first book on the pile under where the Tom Swift books were?”

“Yes,” I said.

It was a paperback book with a luridly painted cover.

Rummies of the Open Road,” I read aloud. “By Horace P. Sternwall?”

“That’s it,” said the voice. “Now pick it up, will you?”

“Why?” I said.

“Because I’m in here,” said the voice, sounding impatient.

“You’re in that book?” I said.

“Yes,” said the voice, after what sounded like a muffled sigh. “I’m in the book. Now pick it up, please.”

I don’t know why I did it, but I did.

I picked the book up.

“Thank you,” said the voice from inside the book. “Now that wasn’t so hard, was it?”

“No,” I said. “Not yet.


(Don’t worry; continued here.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page for an up-to-date listing of links to all other legally-released chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; published also in the Collingswood Patch: “South Jersey’s last bastion of culture and literacy.”)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

“All Night Jam Session”

                                         “All Night Jam Session”

                                           by Horace P. Sternwall

Originally published in Eldritch Tales magazine, August 1950, and included in "
The Siren Call of Doom” and 27 Other Previously Uncollected Stories of the Supernatural by Horace P. Sternwall; the Olney Community College Press; edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Professor Emeritus of Post-Post-Modern Literature, Olney Community College.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq.

“Hey, Mitch,” said Tony Winston. “Mitch. That you in there?”


Tony squatted down, then bent over to one side and peered under the toilet stall door. Two shoes. Two scuffed black shoes, black socks, grey trousers. The one dress requirement Tony asked of his players was that they wear black shoes and grey suits.

“Mitch,” he said again, louder this time. “That you in there, man? Come on, we’re supposed to be on.”


Was he going to have to crawl under this door to get this bum?

“Hey, come on, Mitch.”

Still squatting there, he banged on the door with the side of his fist, once, twice, and then again.

Then he heard a slumping, sliding noise, followed by a soft but heavy thump.

He bent over to one side and peered again under the door.

There was Melvyn “Mitch” Mitchelson, crumpled in front of the toilet, his face sideways on the tiles, staring blankly at Tony. He had his suit jacket halfway off, so that it was only draped over his right shoulder and arm. His left arm was stuck out in front of him, with the shirt sleeve rolled up all the way, and a belt tied around the skinny biceps. There was a syringe and a needle still sticking out of his forearm.

“S**t,” said Tony.

He got to his feet, then went off to find Mr. Nolan, the house dick. 


Mitch Mitchelson’s immortal spirit watched as Mr. Nolan and Tony carried him through the men’s room doorway, each of them with one of Mitch’s arms draped over a shoulder. Tony had gone back to the green room and gotten Mitch’s threadbare old topcoat and his fedora, and the brim of the hat was pulled low over Mitch’s unseeing eyes. Instead of turning left and going back to the Prince Hal Room, Mr. Nolan and Tony turned to the right and carried Mitch down to the fire exit, his shoes dragging on the floor. Mr. Nolan pushed the door open, and Mitch floated along, watching them as they brought his body out to the cobbled alleyway.

“So we leave him out here, Mr. Nolan?”

“No, Tony,” said Mr. Nolan. “It wouldn’t be the best publicity for the hotel, dead trumpet player found in the alley outside.”

“Saxophonist, actually,” said Tony.

“Saxophonist,” said Mr. Nolan. “You up for dragging him down down around the back of the automat? And then we can leave him by the ash cans in back of the deli on the corner. They open up pretty early there, so at least he won’t be lying out too long.”

“Okay, whatever you say, Mr. Nolan.”

“You ready?”

“Yeah, let’s get it over with. I got to get back onstage.”

“I know, Tony. All right, let’s go.”

Mitch’s spirit watched as they dragged his corpse down the dark alley, the toes of his shoes making gentle popping sounds on the old cobbles.

He rose up, into the dark air of the alleyway.

He no longer had any interest in whatever would become of his former corporeal host, which had served him indifferently through twenty-seven years, in good times and bad, through straight times and high times.

Twenty-seven years, a fairly short span of life, but then he had packed a lot of fun into those years, playing in joints all over the country, jamming until the wee hours, getting drunk, getting high, sleeping the day away and then getting up to do it all over again.

But to say he had no regrets would be lying. 

He would have liked to stick around a bit longer, getting high, playing music, jamming all night, sleeping all day. 

He rose up higher. He could no longer see Nolan or Tony or himself down there. He was now all the way up to the roof of the hotel.

The good old Hotel St Crispian.

This had been a good gig, these last few months, playing with Tony’s band in the Prince Hal Room. The music was pretty square, but after the last set nearly every night Mitch and Tony and usually the canary, Shirley De La Salle, they would head down to Bob’s Bowery bar and meet up with some of the rest of the gang, and just jam, until six in the morning, Bob didn’t care, he was cool, and the old winos at Bob’s didn’t seem to mind, the winos and some of the hep cats who would fall in just to dig the jam sessions.

Good times.

So, yeah, Mitch would miss the jam sessions. And he had to admit it, he would miss getting high.

He wouldn’t miss the cold water flat he lived in. He wouldn’t miss the cold hours sweating it out waiting for his connection. He wouldn’t miss never having the money for pretty much anything except his next fix and the automat coffee and pie that kept his corporeal host alive.

But he would miss those all night jam sessions.

He rose up higher, way high up above the city.

Down below were all the lights, all the millions of lights in the dark city, all those millions of people.

He looked up, and he saw something he rarely saw when he had been alive, down there in the city.

He saw the stars. Millions of stars. How could there be so many stars?

He rose up higher, then higher, and he rose up into the stars.


Mitch was standing on a dark city street, and he was carrying his ax in its case.

He could hear music. It was bop, but kind of slow bop, with a lot of blues in it. He headed toward the music, and the music got louder until he came to a bar. It didn’t have a sign with a name on it, just a red neon Rheingold sign.

Mitch pushed open the door, and the barroom was full, filled with laughing people and with smoke.

Off to the right was a slightly raised bandstand, and a combo was playing that slow deep bop music, white cats and black cats, just jamming.

The cornet man was laying out at the moment, standing there on the stage nodding his head and staring off into space. He looked familiar, real familiar. Then he saw Mitch, and smiled, and waved, waved for Mitch to come on over.

Mitch nodded back to the cat and headed on over through the laughing crowd. 

By the time he reached the stage he already had his instrument out of its case.


(Previously published in somewhat different form in
Tales of the Hotel St Crispian, fully illustrated by rhoda penmarq.)

(No new Arnold Schnabel chapter this week because your humble amanuensis was visiting family in Cape May, but Arnold will be back next week with an all-new thrilling chapter of
Railroad Train to Heaven.)

Friday, May 9, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 394: fragrance

Yes, on this rainy night in August of 1957, the gang is all here and drinking a toast with 100-year-old Royal Navy rum in Philpot’s Rare Book Shop in Greenwich Village: Mr. Philpot himself, that roistering adventurer Big Ben Blagwell, Ferdinand the loquacious fly, “Josh” (aka the son of God), and of course our hero, Arnold Schnabel... 

(Kindly click here to read our previous chapter; go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 62-volume masterpiece of confessional literature.)

“After what seemed like an endless winter, spring has finally arrived, and what better way to pass one’s time than sitting in the garden with a big fat spliff and a volume of Arnold Schnabel’s massive and, yes, massively rewarding
chef-d'œuvre.”  – Harold Bloom, in The High Times Literary Quarterly.

The rum tasted good, and involuntarily I closed my eyes, savoring the liquid burn in my throat and the thick smells of the sea and of equatorial jungle, of sun-baked sand – and of something else: an unmistakeable warm smell, but one with which after my long grey years of bachelorhood (forgetting that one drunken hour in a German whorehouse in my youthful army days) I had only recently become familiar: a scent of women, but not that musty aroma emanating from my mother and from my aunts, not the staid perfume of ladies in church, but the honeyed fragrance of young and nearly naked women.
I could feel the heat of that baking sun on my face, on my bare head, on my shoulders, and I felt sweat breaking out all over my body under my damp clothes.

All this happened in the space of less than a second as the rum coursed its merry way down my gullet, and I was afraid to open my eyes, afraid because somehow I knew that if I opened them I would be in yet another world, and yet another world removed from my own world, even if this new world did include young women under a tropical sun.

What had I done wrong?

Where had I gone wrong?

Why was I prevented from returning to my native world? A world which, it was true, I had many times in my life wished I could leave forever – but that had been the old me, the one who had taken forty-two long years to learn how to live…

“What did I do wrong?” I said.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Arnold,” said Josh.

I opened my eyes. I was still in Mr. Philpot’s shop, and Josh was standing smiling there, his strong hand on my shoulder. Ben and Mr. Philpot stood nearby also, staring at me.

Ferdinand was there too, of course, hovering in a concerned way a few inches from my face.

I realized I was sitting in the chair at Mr. Philpot’s desk, the same chair I had been in a few minutes before.

“I think he’s okay now,” said Ferdinand.

“He don’t look too okay,” said Ben.

“A trifle green around the gills,” said Mr. Philpot.

I closed my eyes again and now I saw the women, and they were beautiful.

Josh’s hand squeezed my shoulder.

“You okay, pal?”

My eyes opened.

“Where are the women?” I said, because part of me was still on that tropical island.

“Pardon me?” he said.

“The women,” I said. And part of me wanted all of me to be on that island.

“Arnold,” said Josh, and he squeezed my shoulder and gave it a shake. “There are no women here.”

“No,” I said. “They were here. They were – very beautiful.”

“Oh, boy,” said Ben.

“Hey, Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “Snap out of it, buddy.”

“But if I close my eyes I’ll be back on this tropical beach, and there are these women there – they smell nice –”

“He’s gone mad,” said Mr. Philpot.

“I’m sure it’s just temporary,” said Josh.

I realized that my hand was still holding the jelly glass, holding it upright on the desk top. I lifted it up and looked into it. It was empty.

“The beach is inside me now,” I said. “The tropical island. And the women. Could I have some more of that rum?”

“Yeah, give him some more rum,” said Ben. “That’ll straighten him out –”

“No!” said Josh.

“Jeeze,” said Ben. “It was only a suggestion.”

“The last thing he needs is more rum right now,” said Josh.

“I’d like more rum,” I said. “I want to be with these women. They smell like, like – homemade cranberry sauce – no, that’s not right, like strawberries –”

“Arnold,” said Josh. “Look at me.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I don’t want you to get angry at what I’m about to do.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Hoo boy,” said Ferdinand.

“Quite mad,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Well, is it okay if I have some more rum?” said Ben.

“More rum for everybody,” I said.

“Arnold,” said Josh, “close your eyes for just a second.”

“Okay,” I said. “If I close my eyes I’ll be back on this tropical island, on this beach, with the –”

“With the women,” said Ferdinand.

“How were these women dressed?” said Ben.

“Well, to be honest, they were hardly dressed at all,” I said.

“Okay, I’m going too,” said Ben.

“What the hell, I’m in,” said Ferdinand.

“I wonder if I might come,” said Mr. Philpot. “I don’t think I’ve seen a naked woman in fifty-odd years.”

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll close my eyes and we’ll all be there.”

“Arnold,” said Josh.

“Yes,” I said. 

“I changed my mind,” he said. “Don’t close your eyes.”

“But, Josh,” I said. “You can come too. I’m sure there’s plenty of women for everyone.”

“Sorry about this, Arnold,” he said, and keeping his left hand on my shoulder, he raised his right hand.

“Really, Josh –” I said, but that was as far as I got as he swung his hand down and gave me a terrific slap across the face.

And I was back on that island, I was walking into a sort of open-air bar on the beach, with palm fronds for a roof, and sitting at the bar were all the women, beautiful women, wearing very few clothes, and the women were smiling at me, but then someone shook me hard by the shoulder and I came back and I was in the chair again, sitting at that cluttered desk in Mr. Philpot’s shop.

I touched my face where Josh had slapped me. It hurt.

“Ow,” I said.

“Sorry about that,” said Josh.

“I’m –”

I paused. At first I wasn’t quite sure what I was.

“You’re what, Arnold?” said Josh.

It came to me. I came to it.

“I’m back now,” I said.

“You’re sure?”

“Yes,” I said. I touched the side of my face again. “Ow.”

“Really sorry about that,” said Josh.

“Thank you, though,” I said.

“You’re welcome, buddy.”

He gave my shoulder a little pat, and then finally removed his hand.

“How did I get in this chair?” I said.

“You bolted down that rum like it was the last drink in the world and then you started to faint is what happened,” said Ferdinand.

“Oh,” I said.

“Fortunately Josh and Ben grabbed you and sat you down.”

“Thanks, guys,” I said.

“So you’re sure you’re okay?” said Josh.

“Yes,” I said. I touched my face again.

“Really sorry about the slap, Arnold,” he said. “But I was afraid we were losing you.”

I took a deep breath. I was still sweating profusely, and now I was terribly thirsty.

“Josh,” I said. “I really have to get out of here.”

“Okay, sure. Do you want to go down to the bar downstairs, or –”

“I mean I have to get out of this world,” I said. “And back to my own world.”

“Oh. I see,” he said.

“He’s got a bee in his bonnet about getting home,” said Ben.

“He’s obsessed,” said Ferdinand.

“What the psychologist boys call an idée fixe,” said Mr. Philpot.

“By the way, Mr. Philpot,” said Ben, “you think I could have another small glass of this rum?”

“Only if you fill my own cup up as well,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Don’t forget my thimble,” said Ferdinand. “Arnie spilled most if it when he took his fit.”

“Will do, little buddy,” said Ben. “Mr. Philpot, you mind if I use your cup for a ladle again?”

“By all means, my good chap,” said Mr. Philpot, and he handed his coffee cup to Ben, who had his empty jelly glass in his other hand.

Ben dipped the cup into the keg and emptied it into his jelly glass. He put the glass down on the table.

“Pass me Ferdy’s thimble, will you, Arnie?” said Ben.

The empty thimble was sitting near my left hand. I picked it up, bent forward and handed it over to Ben.

“Thanks, buddy,” he said.

He dipped the cup into the barrel again and poured some rum into the thimble.

“What about you, Josh,” he said. “Ready for a refill, pal? Or, like, your holiness?”

“Please, Ben, just call me Josh,” said Josh.

I don’t know why I’m recounting all this nonsense, but I might as well continue.

“Refill, 'Josh'?” said Ben.

“Well, I still have some in my glass there,” Josh said, pointing to his jelly glass, standing near the edge of the desk. It still had an inch or so of rum in it.

“I’ll top you off,” said Ben.  He reached over,  picked up Josh's glass. “How about you, Arnie?”

“No!” I said, perhaps a trifle rudely.

“Hey, don’t get excited,” said Ben. “Nobody’s gonna force you to drink if you don’t want to.”

“I’m awfully thirsty though,” I said, for once speaking the straight truth.

“So have another tot of rum,” said Ben.

“I mean I’m thirsty for water,” I said.

“Oh,” said Ben. “You got any water, Mr. Philpot?”

“There’s a faucet in the facilities in the back,” said Mr. Philpot.

“I’ll get you a glass of water, Arnold,” said Josh.

“No, it’s okay,” I said. “Besides, I think I might have to use the, uh, facilities, now that I think about it.”

“Use them for what?” said Josh.

I stood up, pushing the chair back. I didn’t fall down. I looked at Josh.

“I need to –” I really did have to go. I shouldn’t have had that last mug of bock, laced with ambrosia or not – ”you know –”

“Oh!” said Josh. “You need to urinate.”

“Yes,” I said.

“To put it bluntly,” said Ferdinand.

“Ain’t it weird,” said Ben – he was filling up Josh’s glass now – “I mean, ain’t it weird how you can be really thirsty and really have to take a piss at the same time?”

“Mr. Broadhammer,” said Mr. Philpot. “You should watch your mode of vocal discourse when in the presence of our divine friend.”

“The name is Blagwell,” said Ben, “and it ain’t nothing he ain’t heard before, am I right, Josh?”

He offered Josh’s glass back to him, filled almost to the brim.

“That’s true,” said Josh, taking the glass. “Believe me, I have heard it all before. Quite literally.”

“Mr. Philpot,” I said.

“Yes, Mr. Walker?” he said. Ben had filled the coffee cup with rum, and he handed it to Mr. Philpot. “Thank you, Mr. Bonghead.”

“Blagwell,” said Ben. “Ben Blagwell.”

“Blagwell,” said Mr. Philpot. “Curious name –”

“Mr. Philpot,” I said.

“Yes?” he said.

“Could you tell me where the bathroom is?”

“There’s no bath in it. Merely a commode and a sink.”

“Okay,” I said. “Could you tell me where this room with the commode and the sink is?”

“You might say please,” said Mr. Philpot.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Where is the bathroom, please, Mr. Philpot?”

“That’s better,” said Mr. Philpot. “Go straight back, you’ll see the door to the storeroom, which I believe is open.”

“So I go in there?”

“No, go to the left of that, and before you reach the door which leads to the downstairs you’ll see another door. It’s clearly marked ‘W.C.’

“Okay,” I said.

W.C. for ‘water closet’.”

“Right,” I said.

“No, you go left.”

“Okay,” I said.

“You can’t miss it.”

I started to turn to go, but then stopped.

“Do I need a key or anything?” I said.

“If you did,” said Mr. Philpot, “I should have given you one.”

I sighed.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”

“Take your jelly glass,” said Mr. Philpot, “so you’ll have something to drink the water out of.”

“Right, good idea,” I said.

I picked up the glass. 

“Look, Arnold, when you get back we have to talk,” said Josh.

“Really?” I said.

“Yes,” said Josh.

“Is it important?”

“Mr. Porter!” said Mr. Philpot. “One does not ask such an one as the son of, of –”

“The guy upstairs,” said Ferdinand, who was sitting on the edge of his thimble of rum.

“The big guy,” said Ben, and he took a drink from the jelly glass of rum he now had in his hand.

“Yes,” said Mr. Philpot. “One does not ask such an one as our divine friend Josh if what he wishes to speak to you about is important!”

“Sorry,” I said. And to Josh, “So it’s important?”

“I should say so,” he said.

“I’ll hurry back then.”

And I turned and headed down the nearest dark narrow canyon of books.

“Hurry back.”

Who was I kidding? 

(Continued here, and  for no one knows how many more years, as yet another trove of Arnold Schnabel’s black-and-white marble copybooks has just recently been discovered in an army footlocker in a closet on the third floor of Arnold’s aunts’ house in Cape May, NJ.)

(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find a quite-often current listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; also published in the Collingswood Patch: “South Jersey’s bastion of culture and literacy.”)

Friday, May 2, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 393: lady pirates

Let’s return to scenic old Greenwich Village on a rainy night in August of 1957, and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in Philpot’s Rare Book Shop, where an old friend has just rung the doorbell... 

(Please go here to read our preceding thrilling episode; click here to return to the all-but-forgotten beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 62-volume memoir.)

“Curiously enough, Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling and magisterial masterpiece has still not become accepted as a staple of the American so-called ‘canon’.”  – Harold Bloom, in
The GQ Literary Supplement.

“Good evening,” he said, almost shouted, over the sound of that torrential rain crashing down into the street behind him and clattering on the awning over his head. “Mr. Philpot I presume?”

“Yes?” said Mr. Philpot. “What is it? I’m closed.”

“Sorry to disturb you,” said Josh. “But I’m looking for –” Mutually looking over Mr. Philpot’s bald head, our eyes met, his and mine. “Oh! Arnold! You’re here!”

I gave him an awkward half of a wave with my left hand, the one that wasn’t holding the jelly glass half-full of British navy rum.

Ferdinand zipped over to near my ear.

“Hey, Arnie, look who it is!”

“I know,” I said.

Mr. Philpot turned and looked at me.

“You know this fellow, Mr. Walker, or Schnabel, or whoever you are?”

“Yes,” I said. “He’s my, uh, friend.”

“Oh. Another one of your ‘friends’.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I do hope I’m not intruding,” said Josh.

He looked bruised and bedraggled, just as when last I had seen him, except now he was wet also, especially the lower part of his trousers, despite the umbrella he was carrying. 
He was wearing the same rumpled pale blue suit and loosened blue tie, and he had the same straw trilby hat on his head. He also still had that big reddish-purple bruise on his left cheekbone, and a black eye on the other side of his face.

“You see,” he said, “I was hoping to find my friend Arnold here –”

“You mean Mr. Walker,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Yes,” said Josh, “heh heh, also known as Mr. Walker, that’s true. By the way, do you think I could come in? It’s awfully wet out here, even under this awning.”

“Oh, very well,” said Mr. Philpot. “So long as you seem to be a friend of Mr. Walker’s.”

“Oh, I really am!” said Josh.

“You look a fright,” said Mr. Philpot. “But then truth to tell Mr. Walker doesn’t look much better.”

“I think we’ve both had rather eventful evenings – haven’t we, Arnold?” he said, calling out in a louder voice to me.

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, come in then,” said Mr. Philpot.

“You’re really too kind,” said Josh.

“Just come in,” said Mr. Philpot, “you’re letting the rain in.”

“Sure,” said Josh.

He stepped inside, buttoning up the flap on the umbrella, and Mr. Philpot closed the door, muffling the din of that crashing rain.

Ben had come over next to me, still holding his jelly glass of rum.

“So this is the son of the big guy, hey, Arnie?” he said in a quiet voice, a quiet voice for him, anyway.

“Yes,” I said.

“Just put your umbrella in that priceless Ming vase there,” said Mr. Philpot to Josh, gesturing to a cracked old vase with a faded floral pattern to the right of the doorway, which already had one umbrella sticking out of it.

“Hmm. Is that really a Ming?” said Josh.

“It most certainly is,” said Mr. Philpot.

“I see,” said Josh.

He stuck his umbrella into the vase, then ran his hand around the rim of the mouth of the vase and then lightly down its curved neck. Then he turned and looked at Mr. Philpot.

“What?” said Mr. Philpot.

“Oh, I didn’t say anything,” said Josh.

“But you thought something,” said Mr. Philpot. “Out with it, damn you. Is there something wrong with that vase?”

“No,” said Josh. “There’s nothing ‘wrong’ with it.”

“Then what is it?”

“Well, I hate to say it,” said Josh, “but this is not a Ming Dynasty vase.”

“It isn’t?” said Mr. Philpot.

“No,” said Josh. He turned to look at the vase again, bending over slightly and running his hand down its side for a few inches. “No. Not exactly. I’m gonna say this is early Ching Dynasty actually.” He looked at his fingertips, which had become dark with dust. He rubbed them together. “1660s? Maybe even late 1550s. Maybe. And that’s pretty darned close to the Ming.”

“But, but –” said Mr. Philpot.

Suddenly Josh turned.

“Oh,” he said, and, after wiping his hand on the side of his trousers, he offered it to Mr. Philpot. “My name is Josh, by the way.”

“Hold on,” said Mr. Philpot. 

“Yes?” said Josh.

“Wait a minute,” said Mr. Philpot. “You’re not the Josh. The one who is Mr. Porter’s shall we say ‘special’ friend?”

“Yes,” said Josh, “I suppose you could say I’m his ‘special’ friend. Hey, you’re not going to leave me hanging, are you, Mr. Philpot?”

“Oh! No, of course not!” said Mr. Philpot, and he took Josh’s hand in both of his old small pudgy hands. “This is indeed an honor, sir! If I may call you ‘sir’? Perhaps ‘Almighty’? Or ‘dear Lord’ would be more appropriate?”

“Just ‘Josh’ is fine,” said Josh.

“Hey, I like this guy,” said Ferdinand, who had remained uncharacteristically quiet through all the above business.

“He seems all right,” said Ben – who had also been unusually silent – speaking in that low voice by his standards. He took his yachting cap off his head. “I ain’t never been too religious myself, but still –”

Mr. Philpot was still holding Josh’s hand in both of his, pumping it up and down.

“Hey, can I have my hand back now?” said Josh, in that genial way of his.

“Oh, yes, of course, sir!” said Mr. Philpot, and he withdrew his hands at once, clasping them together at his chest. “Won’t you sit? Will you have a drink? We were just about to have a spot of hundred-year-old Royal Navy rum, straight from the keg!”

“Can I first say hello to my old friend?” said Josh.

“Oh, but certainly!” said Mr. Philpot, and turning sideways he bowed slightly and waved his arm in a downward sweeping backhand motion in my direction.

Josh came over to me, shaking his head.

“Arnold, Arnold, Arnold,” he said.

“I know,” I said.

We shook hands, but briefly. Neither of us were in the annoying-long-handshake brigade, nor did Josh feel the need to display his supernatural strength by crushing my hand in his.

“You really do look as bad as I do,” he said, grinning.

“Do I?” I said.

“You’ve got a hell of a shiner there, fella.”

I touched my right cheekbone. It felt swollen, but it still didn’t hurt really, thanks to that ambrosia-laced bock I had drunk earlier.

“Things have been – complicated,” I said.

“Hey,” said Ferdinand, who was hovering in the air between me and Ben, “ain’t it always complicated with Arnie?”

Josh stared at him.

“A talking fly?” he said.

“Yes, I know it’s unusual,” said Ferdinand. 

“Not entirely,” said Josh. “Let me see, your name is –” He paused, and I could tell that his divine brain was working, going through all the millions of billions of names he had stored there, of the living and the dead, of man and insect. “Your name is – don’t tell me. Frankie? Francis. No. Wait. Frederick. It’s Frederick. Isn’t it?”

“Close, sir,” said Ferdinand. “Very close. It’s Ferdinand. But very good! Frederick, Ferdinand, it’s a mistake anyone could make!”

Josh now turned to Ben.

“And you must be the famous Ben! Ben – Bagatelle?”

Blagwell, actually, sir,” said Ben. “Ben Blagwell, but they call me Big Ben, on account of –”

“Your expansive spirit?” said Josh, with a smile.

“My what?” said Ben.

“Ha ha, he’s making a joke, big guy,” said Ferdinand.

“Oh, heh heh, I get it,” said Ben, with an uncertain-looking smile.

“Anyway, very pleased to make your acquaintance, Ben,” said Josh, extending his hand.

Ben hesitated, then, after putting his cap back on top of his head, and transferring his jelly glass of rum from his right hand to his left, he took Josh’s hand in his, and as soon as he did I was afraid he was going to do that death-grip handshake thing, and sure enough he did, his face straight away turning a glowing red, or a more brightly glowing and brighter red than its normally bright red hue, the sweat popping up on his forehead.

Josh of course looked quite normal, with a slight smile on his face.

“Ben,” I said. “Stop it.”

Stop what,” said Ben, through his gritted teeth.

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand. “Look at this guy.”

“Ben,” I said, “let go of Josh’s hand.”

We’re – just – shaking – hands –” he said.

“Ben, he’s the son of God, now stop trying to prove how strong you are.”

“Ben is pretty strong,” said Josh.

Strongest – man – in the Pacific – Fleet – in my younger – days –” said Ben.

The sweat was streaming down his face.

“Should I be worried?” said Mr. Philpot. “Mr. Bangwell’s not going to throw a thrombo, is he?”

The – name – is Blagwell,” said Ben. “And I – got – a heart – like – a fucking lion.” He was panting now, heavily. “Don’t – you – worry ‘bout – me, pops!

“Ha ha, I love it,” said Ferdinand, buzzing merrily around. “Look at his face, like he’s trying to shit a really big brick.”

“Fuck – you – Ferdy,” said Ben.

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand. “Jesus Christ almighty. Oh, I’m sorry, Josh. I didn’t mean to take your name in vain –”

“That’s quite all right, Ferdinand,” said Josh.

Ben groaned, loudly and steadily. I hate to say it but it really did sound as if he were straining agonizingly at stool.

“Ben –” I said.

“Oh, my fucking God,” said Ferdinand.

“He looks as if he is about to explode,” said Mr. Philpot.

Arggghhh,” said Ben, and now the sweat was pouring down his face as steadily as if there were a hole in the top of his skull under his yachting cap and all the moisture in his massive body was pumping up out of this hole. “Arggghh,” he said, again and again with each painful panting breath he took.

“Ben,” I said. “Stop.”

Arggggh,” he said.

“Okay,” said Josh, finally. “I give, pal. You win.”

Really?” said Ben, panting as if he had just run a mile.

“Really,” said Josh. “Ow. My hand really hurts. You can let go of it now.”


Ben pulled his hand away, with a loud wet sucking sound. His great hand looked like a glazed ham fresh from the oven, and it actually had steam rising from it. He moved it up and down, and you could tell he was unable even to move his fingers.

“Hope I didn’t hurt you too bad, Josh,” he said, his expression betraying the agony no doubt throbbing in every bone and fiber of his hand.

“Oh, just a little,” said Josh, and he gave his own hand – which looked perfectly normal – a little wiggle.

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand. “Priceless. Fucking priceless.”

“What’re you talking about?” said Ben. “What’s priceless?”

“Never mind,” said Mr. Philpot. “Mister, uh, Josh – let me get you a glass of rum. It would be my pleasure, sir, and an honor.”

“Well, I don’t know if I should, really,” said Josh. “You see I kind of had way too much to drink earlier this evening.”

“It’s very good,” said Mr. Philpot. “And of course, for you, absolutely free of charge, and with the most sincere compliments of the house.”

“Well,” said Josh, “okay, maybe just a very small one.”

“A small one, yes!” said Mr. Philpot. “A wee medicinal dram on this wet and stormy night!”

“Just a small one,” said Josh.

Mr. Philpot waddled quickly over to his desk, picked up the jelly glass half-filled with rum that he had poured for himself, then waddled back to Josh with it.

“There you are, sir, and may you enjoy it!”

“Aren’t you having one?” said Josh.

“Me?” said Mr. Philpot. “Why, yes, I suppose I could go for one, heh heh. Just a small one, mind you!”

He went back to the desk and picked up the coffee cup that Ben had used for a ladle, but it was obvious that he was too short to reach up and dip it into the top of the keg. I sighed and went over, held out my free hand, the one that wasn’t holding  my own glass of rum. He handed me the cup, and I dipped it down into the keg, and pretty much filled the cup with rum. To tell the truth I was halfway hoping some rum would calm him down. I handed him the dripping cup.

“Thank you very much, Mr. Walker, or should I call you Mr. Schnabel?”

“I don’t care,” I said.

“We call him Arnie,” said Ben. “Don’t we, Josh?”

“Yes,” said Josh. “Arnie, or Arnold.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t dream of addressing you by your first name,” said Mr. Philpot, “you, a personal friend of our blessed lord and saviour –”

“Arnold’s fine,” I said.

“Arnie,” said Ferdinand, “get my thimble, will ya? We’ll all drink a toast together.”

“His thimble?” said Josh.

I pointed to the thimble filled with rum sitting there amidst the clutter on Mr. Philpot’s desk, and then I reached over and picked it up.

“Nice, huh, Josh?” said Ben. “His own little thimble to drink out of.”

I thought of it,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Charming,” said Josh. “So, what shall we drink to, gentlemen?”

“To your most divine and benevolent presence, sir!” said Mr. Philpot.

“Well, that seems a bit much,” said Josh. “Let’s drink to our friend Arnold here.”

“Also known as Mr. Walker!” said Mr. Philpot.

“Yes, quite,” said Josh. “To Arnold, my friend, and – to getting him back home.”

“Back home?” I said.

“You heard me, buddy,” he said.

“But I thought you weren’t able, that you, you couldn’t, I mean, earlier, you tried, but you –”

Josh raised his hand, the one that wasn’t holding his jelly glass of rum, holding it palm outward with his arm outstretched, like a cop stopping traffic.

“Arnold,” he said. “Again – here’s to you, pal – and to getting you back home. Raise your glass, boyo.”

I raised my glass. I also raised the thimble of rum I held in my left hand, and Ferdinand landed on its rim.

“To Arnie!” said Ferdinand.

“To Mr. Walker then!” said Mr. Philpot.

“I’ll drink to Arnie,” said Ben. “There ain’t nobody I’d rather have with me if I got stuck on an island of lust-crazed sadist lady pirates, and that’s for sure!”

“O-kay,” said Josh, after a pause, during which I suppose he attempted mentally to digest Ben’s remark. “Well – to Arnold then.”

I had never in my life had a toast drunk to myself before, let alone one proposed by the son of God.

Maybe it was the power of suggestion, but the rum in the jelly glass smelled of sweltering tropical islands – islands ruled by lust-crazed and sadistic lady pirates.

I took a drink anyway.

(Continued here, and unrelentingly on.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page to find a possibly-current listing of links to all other legally-accessible chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; this week’s chapter brought to you by
Bob’s Bowery Bar™: “Try our ‘Arnold Schnabel Special’: a pint of Bob’s Home-Brewed Bock with a shot of Heaven Hill @$3.50 {limit three per customer}!”)