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}!”)


Unknown said...

Funny & wonderful that Josh, the Immovable, develops so quietly but distinctly here.

Dan Leo said...

And what ever happened with Josh and his new girlfriend Carlotta? Maybe we'll find out...