Friday, August 29, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 408: Miss Lily

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, currently trapped in the universe of a mystifyingly obscure “paperback original” novel titled Rummies of the Open Road

(Kindly go here to read our preceding chapter; if you happen to be recovering from a severe illness or a nervous breakdown and the doctors have recommended six months’ bed rest, you might as well click here to begin this 53-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir from the beginning.)

“Soon the summer vacation will be over, and, alas, I shall no longer be able to spend a minimum of eight hours a day lost in the infinitely wondrous world of Arnold Schnabel’s mammoth and
sui generis chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in The Olney Community College Literary Review.

Laughing Lou didn’t fall to the floor, but he did begin to sob, holding one of his enormous hands to his fat cheek.

“Why’ja do that, Lily?” he sobbed. “Why’ja do that?”

Oddly enough he still hadn’t dropped that big cigar of his, and in between his sobs he took a couple of drags off of it.

“Oh, stop your bawling,” said the woman. “I didn’t hit you that hard.”

With her cigarette in her mouth she opened her black sparkly purse and dropped the pistol into it.

“It was too, hard!” said Laughing Lou.

“Big baby,” said the woman, and she snapped her purse shut with an authoritative click.

“I am not a baby!” said Laughing Lou. “But nobody likes to get slugged really hard in the jaw with a pistol!”

“Listen, buddy, if I ever slug you really hard you’ll know you’ve been slugged hard,” said the woman, whom now I began to think of as “Lily”. (It had only taken six or eight repetitions of her name for it to become one with her persona, at least in my own brain. Which was not to say I might not forget it soon enough.)

“It felt hard to me,” said Laughing Lou.

“That’s because you’re a punk,” she said. “A big, fat, loudmouthed –”

“You shouldn’t talk to me like that, Lily!” he yelled. “And I may be a little heavy-set, but I ain’t no punk! I’m a – I’m a –”

“Okay,” she said, and she pointed a finger at him. “Two things. Don’t ever interrupt me, I’ve told you that before. And don’t ever raise your voice to me.”

“But, but –” he burbled, if burbled is a word.

“And don’t ever contradict me,” she said.

“That’s three things,” said Ferdinand, who had been oddly quiet for some little time.

She turned and looked at me and at Horace, who was still sitting at the table.

“Who said that,” she said, and it was like that, with no question mark.

“It wasn’t me!” said Horace.

“So it was handsome there, huh?” she said, meaning me, and I wondered what exactly I looked like in this world.

“It wasn’t Arnie, neither,” said Ferdinand, who was buzzing around just above my head and to the right. “It was me.”

“So one of you bums is a ventriloquist, huh?” she said. “So which one is the ventriloquist and which one is the dummy?”

“Neither,” said Ferdinand, and he flew across the room and stopped and hovered a few feet in front of the woman’s face.

“What the fuck,” she said.

“What the fuck indeed,” said Ferdinand.

“A talking fly?” she said.

“Indeed, madame,” he said. “A talking fly, at your service. My name is Ferdinand.”

“Well, hi there, Ferdinand,” she said, and she took a drag on her cigarette. “My name’s Lily.”

“Watch him, Lily,” said Laughing Lou, who was still sniffling, if not sobbing. “He attacked me. Flew right into my eye –”

“Shut up, Lou,” said Lily. “Just shut the fuck up.” Then she looked over her shoulder at him. “Why didn’t you tell me we had a talking fly in the joint?”

Laughing Lou didn’t say anything, he just stood there near the door, with his hand caressing his jaw.

Lily turned and raised her purse in a back-handed striking position.

“Answer me, you disgusting fat oaf!”

“But you told me to shut up!” said Laughing Lou, and I heard Ferdinand chuckling.

“And now I’m telling you to talk,” she said. “Why didn’t you tell me about the talking fly?”

“Well, you really didn’t give me much of a chance,” said Laughing Lou. “Before you started pistol-whipping me.”

For a second it looked as if she were going to go ahead and whack him with the purse, but then Ferdinand spoke again.

“Y’know, he’s got a point, lovely lady,” he said. “I mean I’m just sayin’.”

She lowered the purse, turned and looked at Ferdinand, who was now hovering only a couple of feet away from her.

“Where’d you come from, anyway, little fella?” said Lily.

“He came from another like world,” said Laughing Lou. “If you had given me a chance I would’ve explained it all to you.”

“I wasn’t asking you, crybaby,” said Lily, not even bothering to turn and look at Laughing Lou. “I was talking to Ferdinand.”

“Well, if I may answer your question, Miss Lily –” said Ferdinand.

“Please do, my friend,” said Lily.

“As the fat boy, says, I come from another world or universe if you will, fallen into this world, which is apparently that of a somewhat tawdry-looking paperback novel called Rummies of the Open Road, along with my two friends: Arnold – that’s the handsome poetic-looking fella over there – and Horace P. Sternwall, the author of said novel – which is to say the gentleman soaked with bourbon sitting at the table there.”

“I could have told you all that, Lily,” said Laughing Lou, who had stopped sobbing, and was now mopping his face with a handkerchief.

“Sure, maybe you could have,” said Lily. “But if you had I very much doubt you would have expressed yourself with such elegant what’s the word?

“Brevity?” said Ferdinand.

“Right, brevity,” said Lily. “Something you wouldn’t know anything about, you longwinded bore-ass.”

“Jeeze,” said Laughing Lou. “Y’know, it may surprise you to hear it, Lily, but I happen to be a very popular raconteur and hail-fellow-well-met, always ready with a good joke, or a slightly bawdy yarn –”

“Can it, fatty,” she said, and she pointed the lit end of her cigarette at Horace. “So you’re the great Horace P. Sternwall –  the modern day Dickens, Balzac and Tolstoy all wrapped up in one.”

“Heh heh,” said Horace, “I shouldn’t go quite that far in describing myself, heh heh –”

“Tell me something, Horace,” she said, “weren’t you taught to rise when a lady enters the room?”

“Oh, my goodness, please forgive me!” said Horace, and he quickly stood up, almost knocking his chair over again. “It’s just that I was, I was –”

“And what about the lid?” she said.

“The lid?”

Horace looked around, as if looking for a lid he was supposed to know something about.

“She means your hat, Horace,” said Ferdinand.

“Oh! Yes!” he said, and he quickly took off his fedora. “I do beg your pardon, but you see, I was, I was –”

“Save the excuses, scribbler,” she said. “A joint like this, believe me, I’m used to no-class bums.”

“Well, it’s still no excuse,” he said. “And I do hope you’ll accept my sincerest, my most profound and heartfelt, um –”

“Horace,” said Ferdinand.

“Yes, my friend?” said Horace.

“Quit while you’re ahead.”

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha –”

Laughing Lou looked as if he were going to toss out one more mirthless peal, but Lily shot him a look and he shut up.

“You know, if I may make a suggestion, Lily,” said Horace, “a lovely name, by the way – if I may address you as such, unless of course you would prefer I address you by your surname, preceded by the appropriate form of address, be it Miss or Mrs. –”

“My friends call me Lily,” she said.

“Lily it is then,” said Horace.

“My friends call me Lily and everyone else calls me Miss Lily.”

“So should I call you Miss Lily?”

“What do you think, Tolstoy?”

“Miss Lily?”

“You said you had a suggestion,” she said.

“Why, yes, I did, Miss Lily,” said Horace, “and mind you, this is only a suggestion – but perhaps if we all just had a drink of something refreshing then the atmosphere might, oh, how shall I put it, lighten up a bit?”

“That’s your suggestion, is it, Dostoyevsky?” said Lily.

“He’s a juicer,” said Laughing Lou.

“Hey, ain’t we all?” said Ferdinand.

“I mean,” said Horace, “it was only a suggestion –”

Lily stared at him. 

Horace shut up.

“Y’know, I can smell the booze on you from here,” she said.

“Oh, that,” he said, “well, you see, when Arnold and Lou had their little – how shall I put it – contretemps?”

“Try putting it in English, Monsieur Zola,” she said.

“Heh heh, yes, of course,” said Horace. “As I was saying, when Arnold and Lou had their little shall we say disagreement – well, you see the table was overturned in the hullabaloo, and the bourbon bottle overturned with it, and its contents you see spilled all over my shirt and tie, and  –”

“What’re you, writing another novel?” she said.

“Heh heh,” he said, “no, but I was just trying to explain how all the whiskey soaked my shirt and tie, and there’s even some on my trousers I see –”

“Horace,” said Ferdinand.

“Yes, Ferdinand,” said Horace.

“What did I tell you about quitting while you were ahead?”

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Ha –”

Lily shot him another look and he shut up again in mid-”ha ha”.

I couldn’t take much more of this – or, I probably could, but I didn’t want to – and I remembered again that if I were a fictional character there was no need for me to be my usual self-effacing self.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Miss?”

“Yes, handsome?” said Lily.

“As Ferdinand has said, my name is Arnold, Arnold Schnabel.”

“Pleased to meet you, Arnold,” she said. “You can call me Lily.”

“Hello, Lily,” I said. “I wonder, Lily, if I might say something.”

“You have the floor, Arnold,” she said.

“First off, I want to – to apologize for any unpleasantness that has – transpired here tonight,” I said. “Any unpleasantness that I may have been at least somewhat responsible for.”

“He tried to brain me with a chair, Lil,” said Laughing Lou.

“He did?” said Lily.

“He sure did,” said Laughing Lou. “See it on the floor, there? Broke the leg. One of them good chairs we got from Sears and Roebuck. Good thing I blocked it with my arm, too, he might have killed me. As it is I bet I’m gonna get a terrific bruise –”

“Oh, boo hoo,” she said. “All the fat you got on that arm, you probably didn’t even feel it.”

“Look, I admit I got carried away,” I said. “And again, I apologize.”

“You got nothing to apologize for,” said Ferdinand. “He pulled a .38 on you.”

“I only pulled my .38 because he threatened to knock me down,” said Laughing Lou.

Lily turned to face Laughing Lou.

“A guy half your size threatens to knock you down and you pull a .38 on him?”

“Well, okay,” he said. “Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.”

“Excuse me, Miss Lily, but may I just interpolate something, at this juncture?" said Horace.

She turned and looked at him for a moment before speaking.

“Sure,” she said. “What’s on your mind, Flaubert?”

“Heh heh,” said Horace. “Flaubert, he was a great novelist –”

“Fuck Flaubert,” she said.

“Heh heh,” he said. “Right, he was rather dull, really –”

“Horace,” she said. “Say what you have to say or shut up.”

“Right,” said Horace, “brevity, concision, no beating around the bush –”

“Unless you want a taste of what Lou got you better spit it out, Mister Horace P. Sternwall, because in case you haven’t noticed, I am not a patient woman.”

“To the point then,” said Horace. “I just want to say that maybe – and please note I say maybe – maybe both Arnold and Lou were somewhat at fault. I say maybe.”

That Mantovani album was still playing, but still I could hear Ferdinand heave a sigh, even though he was hovering some six feet away from me. But he didn’t say anything. For which I was grateful.

“Maybe?” said Horace, again.

Lily took another drag on her cigarette before speaking.

“And maybe,” she said, “just maybe, I do not give a flying fuck.”

(Continued here, because we have three bartenders and two cats to support.)

(Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find what one hopes is a reasonably current listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Click here to read Arnold’s adventures on your Kindle™, for a modest fee, all proceeds going to the Arnold Schnabel Preservation Project™.)

Friday, August 22, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 407: dynamite

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel in a rather dramatic moment, trapped as the poor fellow is in the world of a strangely obscure paperback novel called Rummies of the Open Road

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; obsessive completists may click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume autobiography.)

“I have no great fear of death per se, but I do fear shuffling off this mortal coil before I have read Arnold Schnabel’s towering and massive
chef-d'œuvre in its entirety.” – Harold Bloom, in The AARP Literary Digest.

Unfortunately for me – or, who knows, maybe fortunately – Laughing Lou raised up his enormous left arm just in time to block the armchair, and one of its legs shattered just like the legs of chairs and barstools always do in fights in movies. He did fall over however, to his right, away from the blow, and as he fell his great legs overturned the table on top of poor Horace, the glasses and ashtrays and bourbon bottle and beer bottles all flying and crashing. Laughing Lou hit the floor with the thunderous dithering thump of a hippo pushed off a six-story roof, but he rolled over once and then rather amazingly leapt to his feet again with the nimbleness of a Bruno Sammartino in his prime recovering from a body slam. His derby had fallen off, revealing a balding shiny head, but he still had his enormous cigar in one hand and the revolver in the other. The revolver was pointed at me.

He was panting. I was panting, too, although to be honest I had not exerted myself to any great extent. I was vaguely aware of Horace pushing himself out from under the upside-down table and getting to his feet. I had no idea where Ferdinand was. I was concentrating on the muzzle of that pistol, which was pointed, as far as I could tell, at my chest.

Laughing Lou continued panting for almost a minute, it felt like a half hour, and then he spoke.

“Drop that chair,” he said.

I wasn’t even aware until that moment that I still held the broken chair. I dropped it, and, having only three legs now, it fell over to the floor. 

“And here I was only trying to help you,” said Laughing Lou.

“I’m sorry if I overreacted,” I said.

“Trying to help you I was,” he said, “you and this two-bit hack here.”

He gestured at Horace, who was running his fingers over his shirt and tie, which were soaked with bourbon. His fedora had fallen off. His head was balding also, although he wasn’t as bald as Laughing Lou.

“Hey, Lou,” said Horace, “I told Arnold, I asked him, you heard me, I asked him to, to – to sit down, to –”

“Clam up, Horace,” said Laughing Lou. “I was not addressing you.”

“Sorry,” said Horace. “I didn’t mean to, you know –”

“Didn’t I just tell you to clam up?”

“That’s right, you did, Lou,” said Horace. “I apologize. I’ll clam up –”

Laughing Lou pointed the pistol at Horace. 

“Stop jabbering and turn that table right side up again. Slow.”

“Slow?” said Horace.

“Slow and easy like,” said Laughing Lou.

“’Slow and easy like,’” said Ferdinand, who I now could see was hovering about ten feet off the floor, roughly above the center of the overturned table. “Slow and easy like,” he repeated. “Who even talks like that?”

“And you, you little wiseass insect,” said Laughing Lou. “You think I couldn’t plug you with this gat?”

“Um, no, I don’t think you could in fact, fat man,” said Ferdinand. “In case you haven’t noticed, this ain’t some Audie Murphy western, and there’s no way in hell you’re gonna hit a fly with a snubnose .38 at this distance.”

“You want to bet on that, pipsqueak?” said Laughing Lou.

“Go ahead,” said Ferdinand, “please, try. Be my guest. See, I won’t even fly around, I’ll just like hover here.”

By this time Horace had managed to turn the table upright again. I didn’t help him. This may have been rude on my part, but at the time I didn’t care.

“Listen, everyone –” said Horace.

“What?” said Laughing Lou, who was still panting. I guess he was out of shape. Or maybe he was just excited.

Horace spread out his hands.

“Can’t we all just start over? Somehow we got off on the wrong foot, but I think if we –”

“Shut up, Horace,” said Laughing Lou. “And pick your chair up.”

“Yes, of course, Lou,” said Horace, “of course –” and he turned and picked up his overturned chair. “Can I pick my hat up, and my cigar? I don’t want it to burn your nice hardwood floor. What is that by the way, maple? Or white oak maybe – or –”

“Yes, you can pick up your cigar and your goddam hat,” said Laughing Lou.

Horace turned around and went back a few steps and picked up his cigar, then he went a few more steps to the right and picked up his hat. He put the cigar in his mouth, then brushed off his hat with his hand and put it on.

“Thanks, Lou,” he said. “I feel kind of naked without my hat. Y’know where I got this hat? It was in Kansas City –”

“Shut up,” said Laughing Lou.

“Sorry,” said Horace.

“Now come over here, slow and easy like –”

“Ha!” said Ferdinand.

“Slow and easy like,” repeated Laughing Lou, “and pick up my derby and hand it to me.”

“Sure,” said Horace.

He did as Laughing Lou asked, moving slow and easy like, and he brushed off the derby and then held it out at arm’s length to Laughing Lou.

“Really nice derby, Lou. May I ask where you –”

“Shut up,” said Laughing Lou. He took the derby and put it on his head. “Now pick up that chair I was sitting in.”

“Certainly,” said Horace.

“Put it back where it was at the table.”

“Of course,” said Horace.

He picked up the chair and set it down near the table.

“Now go back to your chair,” said Laughing Lou.

Horace quickly went back and stood behind his chair.

“If you like I can clean up some of this mess,” said Horace. “The broken glass and all. Do you have a broom and dustpan?”

“What a pussy,” said Ferdinand, who was now lazily floating in figure-eights above our heads.

“Excuse me,” said Horace, “but I don’t think it’s being a pussy to offer just to –”

“Pussy,” said Ferdinand.

“Really, Ferdinand,” said Horace, “I think –”

“Will you just shut the fuck up?” said Laughing Lou.

“Who, me?” said Horace.

“Yes, you,” said Laughing Lou. “Sit down.”

“Sit down?” said Horace.

“Yes!” said Laughing Lou. “Sit down and shut the fuck up.”

“Sure, Lou,” said Horace, and he quickly sat down. “Gladly, anything you say, and now maybe we can all just –”

“What did I just say?” said Laughing Lou.

“For me to sit down?” said Horace.

“What else?”

“To shut up?”


“I’m so sorry, I guess I’m just a little, heh heh, nervous –

Laughing Lou pointed the gun at Horace, and Horace abruptly shut up, biting his lips.

Laughing Lou swung the gun around to me again again.

“You,” he said to me. “Tough guy. Sit down. In that chair you somehow didn’t willfully destroy.”

He gestured with the short barrel of the pistol to the previously unoccupied chair, which hadn’t gotten knocked over.

“I’d prefer to stand,” I said.

“I don’t give a damn what you prefer, my butch poet friend,” he said. “Now sit your narrow ass down before I put one in your kneecap.”

Sure enough, he pointed the pistol in the direction of my right knee. 

I wondered if he would really shoot me in the knee. I wondered if, having been shot in the knee in this world, and if I ever made it back to what I still like to think of as “my world”, would I be crippled there also?

“Arnie,” said Horace “please, don’t cause any more trouble –”

“Boy, what a sniveling coward you are, Horace,” said Ferdinand.

“I freely admit to being a coward,” said Horace. “I embrace my cowardice. I look on cowardice in fact as one of my cardinal virtues, enabling me as it does to continue to live, to drink, to eat, and – yes – on occasion, when I have the price of a throw, to get my ashes hauled –”

“Excuse me,” said Laughing Lou. “Did I or did I not tell you to clam up?”

“That you did,” said Horace, “that you did, and henceforth I shall –”

Suddenly there was a loud rapping, as of someone rapping at a door with a ringed knuckle.

“Lou!” came a woman’s voice, muffled but loud. “Open up, goddammit! What the hell’s going on in there?”

“Oh, shit,” said Laughing Lou. He looked at me. “There, you happy now?”

I had nothing to say to this.

Lou sidled his great body past me, keeping the gun on me.

“Don’t you move, Arnold,” he said. “Or I swear I’ll drill you.”

Swears he’ll drill you,” said Ferdinand. “Who writes this guy’s dialogue?”

“You just shut up, too,” said Laughing Lou.

I turned to watch him backing up to the door we had come in through.

“Don’t nobody move,” he said.

“Brilliant,” said Ferdinand. “Just brilliant. ‘Don’t nobody move.’ What scintillating like repartee.”

“Lou!” yelled the woman’s voice, and the rapping sounded on the door again. “What the hell’s going on in there?”

“One moment, Lily,” called Laughing Lou, and in a lower voice he said, looking at me. “Thanks, pal. Thanks for nothing.”

“Lou!” yelled the woman’s voice again, and again the rapping sounded. “Open up before I get the boys to break this door down!”

“I’m coming, Lily!” called Lou.

He was at the door now. Keeping his back to the door and his gun on me, he turned slightly and with his left hand he shot the barrel bolt, then turned the switch on the deadbolt, and finally unfastened the security chain. He turned the door knob, and stepped away from the door, still keeping his gun pointed at me.

Standing outside the door was the woman in the black sparkly dress who had been singing and playing the piano, singing about me. She was holding a lit cigarette. She took a drag on the cigarette, looking at Laughing Lou, then at me, and at Horace.

She exhaled smoke, and then entered the room. She was carrying a black sparkly purse that matched her dress.

Lou closed the door behind her.

“What the fuck is going on here?” she said. “And what the fuck was that awful noise I heard? Sounded like an elephant crashing to the earth after being dumped from an aeroplane. Totally fucked up the song I was playing.”

“I can explain,” said Laughing Lou.

“And why are you waving that pea-shooter around?” she said.

“It’s all his fault,” said Laughing Lou, and he waved the gun in my direction. “He was trying to get tough with me. With me! Laughing Lou Abernathy! Ha ha! Who does this punk think he is?”

“And what is that crappy music on the Hi-Fi?” she said.

I hadn’t realized it until then, but the record album Laughing Lou had put on had been playing all along, like background music in a movie.

“It’s Mantovani,” said Laughing Lou. 

“It stinks,” said the woman.

“I can put on something else if you like,” said Laughing Lou. “Some cool jazz, ha ha?”

“Give me that rod,” said the woman.

“The rod?” said Laughing Lou.

“The rod, the gat, whatever you assholes call it. The gun.”

“But I tell you, Lily,” said Laughing Lou, and he pointed the lit end of his cigar at me. “This punk is trouble! He thinks he’s a tough guy! Tough! Huh!”

“The rod,” said Lily, and she held out her right hand.

“Okay,” said Laughing Lou, and he placed the revolver in her hand. The gun suddenly seemed twice as big now that she was holding it. “Take the gun, Lily! I don’t need a gun to handle a two-bit four-flusher like him! I’ll just give him one of these.” He held up his right hand, making it into a fist. “And then if I have to I’ll give him one of these, too.” Now he held up his left fist. “I call this one ‘dyna’,” he said, glancing at his right fist. “Ha ha! And this one,” he glanced at his left fist, “I call ‘mite’. Put ‘em together, and you know what you got? Ha ha! Know what you get?”

Suddenly the woman whipped the gun into the fat fellow’s jaw.

“Dynamite,” she said.

(Continued here, and onward unrelentingly until that last marble copybook has been transcribed.)

(Kindly look to the right hand column of this page to find an ostensibly up-to-date listing of links to all other available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. This project made possible in part through a generous endowment from Bob’s Bowery Bar©, at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Allow me to recommend Bob’s Bowery Bar’s justifiably famous ‘basement-brewed’ house bock – and tell the bartender Horace sent you!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author of the bestselling Diary of an Illiterate.)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 406: boozehounds

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, who has found himself trapped in the world of a strangely obscure “paperback original” novel titled Rummies of the Open Road

(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter; if you have way too much time on your hands you may go here to return to the all-but-forgotten beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 59-volume memoir.)

“Just when you’re beginning to think that you may have some faint inkling of where Arnold Schnabel is going with his narrative he opens a door and shoves you headlong into yet another completely unexpected but infinitely fascinating universe.” – Harold Bloom, in
The Cosmopolitan Literary Supplement.

For a moment no one said anything. 

I could tell Laughing Lou was more than ready to continue to force us to nudge him along. Someone had to do it, so I plunged in.

“So you know why we’re here,” I said.

“Well, ‘why’ is a very loaded word, isn’t it?” he said. “Ha ha! But let me put it this way: I know how you got here.”

“You do?” I said.

“Oh, ho, ha ha! Yes indeed, my friend, I do indeed. Ha ha!”

“That we’ve been –”

I hesitated. It sounded so stupid just to say it all out loud.

“Go on,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”

“That we have been – transported into the world of a paperback novel,” I said.

“Sentence fragment,” said Horace.

“Shut up, Horace,” I said.

“Jeeze,” he said. “I was only pointing it out. I mean, you’re supposed to be a poet –”

“Poets are allowed to use sentence fragments,” said Ferdinand. “You know that, Horace.”

“Well, yes, I suppose you’re right,” he said, but he seemed to be saying it grudgingly.

“And besides,” said Laughing Lou, “not that I’m a literary fella myself like you and Arnie here – ha ha! – but if this is a fictional universe, then isn’t dialogue allowed to be ungrammatical, as a representation of the way people actually speak?”

“He’s right, Horace,” said Ferdinand, who had settled down and was sitting on the rim of his whiskey glass. “Come on, you’re a published author – own up.”

“Okay,” said Horace. “I stand corrected. But still I think the speech of a poet-character like Arnold might be a little more – shall we say – elegant than that of your average –”

“Horace,” I said. “I apologize for telling you to shut up. That was rude of me. But can we change the subject?”

“Fine. I could care less,” he said.

“Couldn’t care less,” said Ferdinand.

“Whatever,” said Horace.

“Anyway,” I said, “getting back to the subject.”

“Great, get back to the subject,” said Horace. “And I won’t even mention the sentence fragment you just uttered.”

“Okay,” I said. “Thank you, Horace.” I turned to Laughing Lou. “So you knew all along that we were – we were –“

What were we?

Exiles,” said Laughing Lou. “Castaways in the world of a trashy drugstore paperback.”

“Okay, now hold on a minute,” said Horace. “Right there. What’s this about trashy?”

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “I see I have touched a nerve.”

“I’ll have you know I don’t consider my novels to be 'trashy',” said Horace. “Populist, perhaps. Demotic, maybe. Not filled with highfalutin descriptions that no one wants to read, and ten-dollar words that no one ever uses in real life – sure. Not devoid of something so old-fashioned as plot and story – yes, I plead guilty. But on the other hand, if you’re looking for good honest yarns meant for regular working men and women, and decidedly not for ivory-tower Ivy League professors, well –”

“You talk like you actually wrote this novel we’re in,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”

“Well, it is my novel!” said Horace. “I mean, it’s got my name on it, right under the title –”

“Ha ha! Yes, so it does!”
“Damn straight it does. 'Alcoholics in the Alley, by Horace P. Sternwall' –”

“What was that title again?” said Laughing Lou.

“Um,” said Horace, “Wait, no, that wasn’t it. Drunks in the Street. No. Boozehounds of the Great Highway?”

'Boozehounds of the Great Highway?” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Boozehounds of the Great Highway? Really?”

Horace looked at me.

“Arnie, help me out, I’m having a mental block.”

Rummies of the Open Road,” I said.

“Right,” he said. “Rummies of the Open Road. By Horace P. Sternwall. Me.”

“Except,” said Laughing Lou, “ha ha! – you didn’t actually write it, did you Horace?”

“Well –” said Horace.

“You paid that old man Mr. Philpot for the book, didn’t you?”

“Well, okay – so what if I did?” said Horace. “It’s still my book if I paid him for it –”

“Except,” said Laughing Lou, “ha ha! – except that you didn’t come up with all the scratch, did you? So he trapped you in the pages of the book.”

“Well, okay,” said Horace, “something like that, but like I told Arnie here, I was gonna pay the old bastard –”

“In fact,” said Laughing Lou, “you were suspended in the pages of the aforesaid paperback, a disembodied consciousness  surrounded by nothingness until Arnold here happened to come along, and –”

“Okay, okay –” said Horace.

“Until poor innocent Arnie came along,” said Laughing Lou, “and you talked him into opening the book – didn’t you? In that lavatory?”

“Yeah, yeah –” said Horace. 
“Talked him into opening the book,” said Laughing Lou, “which against his better judgment he did. Casting his eyes upon those printed words within. And by so doing – by the magical mystical act of reading – he transformed you into a living and breathing character in that book!”

“Okay, fine,” said Horace.

“Because what is a book without a reader?”

“I don’t know,” said Horace. “But I think you’re going to tell me.”

“Ha ha!,” said Laughing Lou, for what seemed like the millionth time. “A book without a reader, my friend, is a world – no, it is a universe – that has not yet been created!

“Oh. Really?” said Horace.

“Yes, really,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Because you see a book has two creators: the author; and just as important: the reader. Ha ha!”

“Very, like, profound,” said Horace.

He picked up his glass of whiskey and drank the couple of fingers that were still in it.

“Have some more bourbon, Horace,” said Laughing Lou. “Help yourself.”

“Thanks, I will,” said Horace.

He picked up the bottle and poured himself another four or five fingers.

“You owe this man a tremendous debt,” said Laughing Lou, and he pointed his big fat finger at me. “He it was who brought your book, and you, to life.”

“Okay,” said Horace. “Fine. Thanks, Arnold. Sincerely.”

He took another drink of whiskey, but a shorter one this time.

“Unfortunately for friend Arnold, though,” said Laughing Lou, “through this act of creation he too became a character in your sordid little potboiler.”

“Look, do we have to open up that whole can of worms again?” said Horace. “Arnold and I have already been through all that, and I assured him I had like no intention of trapping him in the world of my novel –”

Your novel, Horace?”

“Okay, fine,” said Horace. “The novel I paid Philpot to create.”

“But not enough,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Otherwise you wouldn’t be stuck here in it. Nor would poor Arnold. Exiled. So far from his home. In a cheap tawdry paperback.”

“All right, all right! Jeeze,” said Horace. “Lighten up a little. And anyway, what’s with all this expository dialogue, or monologue I should say? It’s boring –”

“And Ferdinand!” said Laughing Lou. “Friend fly – who innocently went looking for his friend Arnie when he took a suspiciously long time in the john, and found the previously mentioned facilities empty – empty that is except for this ‘paperback original’ novel – oh, what was its title again, Horace?”

“Um, uh,” said Horace, “uh, Winos of the Wasteland? Or –”

Rummies of the Open Road,” said Laughing Lou.

“That’s what I meant to say,” said Horace.

“And this ballsy little fly, he sees this - this book – lying open on the pisser floor, and does he hesitate?”

“I did not,” said Ferdinand.

“He flies down into that forbidding jungle of printed words and finds himself also transported, body and soul, into this world.”

“Hey, anything for a friend,” said Ferdinand.

That is a true friend,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”

“Okay,” said Horace. “So Arnie and Ferdinand are great guys, and I’m a jerk, because it’s all on account of me that they’re stuck in this world.”

“Nobody’s calling you a jerk, Horace,” said Laughing Lou.

“Well, it seemed like you were implying it.”

“Maybe it’s time for you to lighten up, my friend,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!” 

I took another drink of my ale, and put the bottle down. It was empty.

“Laughing Lou,” I said, “may I ask how you know all this?”

“You may indeed,” he said. “Ha ha! Yes, sir, you may indeed ask! Ha ha!”

But then he said nothing. He was going to make me ask again, now that he had given me permission to ask. And it suddenly occurred to me that if I was a character in a cheap paperback novel there was no reason at all why I had to act like the Arnold Schnabel I had always been. I could act like what I now was, a character in a cheap novel.

So I did something completely out of character for Arnold Schnabel, for myself. 

I made a fist with my right hand, raised it above my head and banged it down hard on the table.

The three empty beer bottles on the table all fell over, the ashtrays leapt up, the whiskey glasses also all jumped up an inch, spilling varying amounts of their contents, Ferdinand zipping up from his glass lest he should be drenched in bourbon, and the open bottle of Heaven Sent bourbon almost toppled over, but Horace quickly reached out and grabbed it.

I stood up, knocking my chair over to the floor.

“God damn it!” I yelled. “’Laughing Lou!’ Laughing Lou! What’s so goddam funny, anyway?”

“Arnie,” said Horace, “please, we’re guests here.”

“Ha ha, go Arnie!” said Ferdinand, buzzing merrily around above the table.

“Listen, ‘Laughing Lou’,” I said. “We want some answers, and we’re sick and tired of having to pry each word out of you!”

“Wow,” said Laughing Lou.

“Now answer my question,” I said. “How did you know all this about us? And quit beating around the bush.”

“Now you’re acting like a character!” said Laughing Lou. “By George! A strong, dynamic character, too! Ha ha!”

“Answer my goddam question, you big annoying fat slob,” I said.

“Ha ha!” he said.

“And will you please stop saying ‘ha ha’ all the time?” I said. “It’s – it’s –”

“Infuriating?” said Ferdinand, who was hovering around the center of the table.

“Yes – infuriating!” I said.

“But it’s a character trait,” said Laughing Lou. “That’s why I’m called Laughing Lou. Ha ha! Ha ha! Ha ha!

“All right, stand up,” I said.

“May I ask why?” he said.

“Because I’m going to knock you down,” I said, “you big, fat, annoying –”

“What?” he said.

“Arnie, please,” said Horace.

“I think ‘fuck’ is the word you’re looking for, Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “As in big fat annoying fuck.”

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “My God, you fellows are characters! Yes indeed! Oh, look,” he said.

“What?” I said.

He held up his enormous cigar, in his left hand. “My Churchill’s gone out. Let me just get the old gold-plated Ronson out and relight it before you give me a roundhouse haymaker and knock me out for the count.”

He put his right hand inside his suit jacket, and then he brought out a revolver, a snubnose, and he pointed it at me.

“Oh! Look,” he said. “It’s not my gold-plated Ronson. It’s my nickel-plated Colt. Chambered for .38 Special. Do an awful lot of damage at this range. Ha ha! Now pick up that chair.” 

I stood there.

“I said pick up the chair,” said Laughing Lou.

“I’ll pick it up,” said Horace, and he started to slide his own chair away from the table.

“You sit right there, Horace,” said Laughing Lou.

“Okay,” said Horace.

“Now pick up that chair, Arnie,” said Laughing Lou. “Or maybe I’ll decide to shoot Horace.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” said Horace.

Laughing Lou was looking at me, but now he had the gun pointed at Horace.

“Maybe I’ll just wing him,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Put one in his elbow. That’s got to hurt!”

“Arnie, please,” said Horace.

I turned around, and I set the chair upright again, standing beside it, with my right hand on the chair back.

“Good man,” said Laughing Lou. He was pointing the gun at me again now. “Now sit down, please, Arnold.” 

I stood there, with my hand on the back of the chair.

“Oh, I get it!” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! You’re thinking of swinging that chair over the table at me, aren’t you? Thinking the sudden movement will make me flinch and fire into the air.”

To be honest, that was exactly what I had been thinking.

“Arnie, don’t do anything stupid,” said Horace.

“Oh, let him try it if he must,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Who knows, maybe it will work. That sort of thing sometimes does in this sort of novel. Ha ha!”

He was still pointing the gun at me, in the general direction of my chest.

“Arnie,” said Horace, “please, sit down. Let’s all be friends.”

“Right,” said Laughing Lou. “No reason we can’t be friends. Now sit the fuck down.”

“Fuck him, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, who was still hovering above the table, at the height of the top of my head. “He’s not going to shoot you.”

“Oh, am I not?” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha! Shall we see?”

He cocked the hammer of the pistol.

Then I saw the thin black line of Ferdinand flying like a shot right into Laughing Lou’s face, into his left eye, the eye that was closest to me, Laughing Lou flinched, his head snapping back and to the right, Ferdinand bouncing away from his face just as I swung the chair over the table at Laughing Lou’s head.

(Continued here, with grateful thanks for the continued sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Many is the morning I have staggered into Bob’s with a brutal hangover, a marble copybook and a few #2 pencils, and emerged after lunch with a new short story or a chapter or two of a novel, my creativity spurred – and my physical malaise alleviated – by Bob’s excellent ‘basement-brewed’ house bock.” – Horace P. Sternwall, author of the best-selling novel Sidewalks of Despair.)

(Illustration by James Avati. Please turn to the right hand column of this page to find a quite possibly current listing of links to all other published chapters of Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; all contents vetted and approved by the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia, PA.)

Friday, August 8, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 405: way out

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel here at a roadhouse barroom in the world of an extremely rare and obscure “paperback original” novel titled Rummies of the Open Road

(Please click here to read our previous chapter; if you have positively nothing better to do with your life then you might as well go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 73-volume autobiography.)

“When one enters the universe of Arnold Schnabel one enters not just one world, but a multitude of worlds, each containing multitudes of worlds within their respective worlds.” – Harold Bloom, in
The Maxim Literary Supplement.

“So, I see you and young Trixie were getting along swimmingly,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”

“This guy and the dames,” said Ferdinand, buzzing around in a merry way, “the chicks love him!”

“Is that so?” said Horace.

“What, you kidding me?” said Ferdinand. “With a stick he beats them off. With a club! Right, Arnie?”

“So, Laughing Lou,” I said, blatantly changing the subject because I really just didn’t care anymore about being so boringly polite all the time, “you said you had a quiet place we could sit, and – uh –”

And what?

“And chat,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Follow me!” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”

He stuck his enormous cigar in his mouth, and with the enormous open hand that wasn’t holding his bottle of Tree Frog ale he gave me a mighty blow on the shoulder, but I saw it coming and was able to roll with it as I had learned to do from boxing in the army, and so I only stumbled a few feet to the left against some people at the bar instead of falling down completely.

I apologized to these people, who seemed to take the accident in good grace when they saw I was in Laughing Lou’s company. He and Horace and Ferdinand had already headed off down the length of the bar, and I followed them.

The combo was still playing, and the woman in black at the piano was still singing, another sad song I had never heard before, and again she seemed to be gazing across that crowded smoky barroom at me as she sang:

There he goes, the lonely fella,
But where he is going he knows not;
Why he goes, he couldn’t tell ya –
Out of the fire and into the pot…
And there she went again, singing about me, and in a sense I knew I should have been flattered, but I wasn’t; in fact I found it disconcerting. She sang another verse as I made my way down the bar.
There he goes, the pathetic jerk
His brain always churning and bubbling;
He’s just not cut out for any useful work

Chaps like him can be awfully troubling…
Laughing Lou made a left turn at the corner of the bar, Horace and Ferdinand followed him, and I followed them. After all, I had nowhere else to go.

The lady in black continued to sing, behind my back, singing about me:

There he goes, that lonely sad guy,
On the road to a place called nowhere; 

So say farewell to him, say goodbye,
He has no choice but to go there...
Following Laughing Lou’s lead we next turned right, went past a hallway that seemed to lead to a kitchen, and then we came to a door with a sign saying “PRIVATE”. Laughing Lou had taken that enormous cigar out of his mouth, but now he shoved it back in, put his hand into his jacket pocket, brought out a big steel ring of keys, and then turned to me.

“Hold my bottle of ale for me, will you, Arnie?”

I did as he asked, and he selected a key from his chain and unlocked the door. He pushed it open, reached in and switched on a light, then stood to the side and waved us inside.

I followed Horace and Ferdinand into this next room, and Laughing Lou was right behind me, putting the keys back into his pocket and closing the door.

I turned, and I saw him slide a barrel-bolt shut on the door, and then turn the switch on a deadbolt. The door had a security chain also, and he ran its bolt into its slide. Then he turned around and took the cigar out of his mouth.

“Gotta keep the hoi polloi out,” he said. “I leave that door unlocked every drunk out there will be stumbling in here, trying to crash our little ‘boy’s party’ – ha ha!”

He held his hand out for his bottle of ale, I handed it to him, and he waved at the brightly-lighted room behind us with his cigar.

“My sanctum sanctorum,” he said. “Ha ha!”

He pointed his cigar at the left side of the room.

“You got your fully stocked wet bar over there, with a Frigidaire filled with fine beers and ales. French champagne, too, the good stuff, not that cheap domestic bilge water, ha ha!”

Then he pointed to the right.

“You got your regulation pool table over here, in case you want to run a rack or two. Ha ha! Hi-Fi set over there the other side of the table, with shelves and shelves of the finest music ever recorded.” He turned to me, looking as if he were genuinely curious. “What do you like, Arnold? You look like you have discerning taste. Charlie Parker? Pee Wee Russell? Lady Day?”

“I don’t care,” I said.

“Name somebody. If I have it we’ll play it.”

I drew a blank.

“Someone,” he said. “Anyone?”

“Do you have any Jackie Gleason albums?” I said.

“You like Gleason?”

(I neither liked nor disliked Jackie Gleason’s music, but my mother had several of his albums she had got with green stamps from the Acme, and Gleason’s name was the first thing I thought of.)

“Yes,” I said, because it was easier to say yes, and less boring, than to tell the truth.

“People tell me I remind them of Jackie Gleason,” he said. “On account of I’m a big man, I guess.”

“Um,” I said. What else could I say? That he wasn’t big and fat?

“There’s just one little problem,” he said.

I didn’t say anything. I figured there were probably many little problems, and many big ones, too.

“You want to know what that little problem is?” he said.

I knew, even I knew, that this was a rhetorical question, and one which, if I were to respond honestly to it, would only result in more and deeper tedium than if I lied, so I said, “Sure.”

“I don’t think I actually in point of fact have any of Gleason’s records,” he said. 

He paused, waiting I suppose for some sort of response from me. I don’t know why, but I kept him waiting. 

“I hope you’re not offended,” he said at last.

“No,” I said.

“Really?” he said.

“Really,” I said.

“I have nothing against Gleason’s music you understand,” he said, “nothing at all. And as for his ability as an artiste, both comic and dramatic, I think he is nonpareil. However, for that sort of music, you know, classical type music with violins and all, I gotta tell ya, I’m just more of a Mantovani man myself. Please don’t take this as a personal attack on your taste."

“I don’t,” I said. And then, throwing him a bone, and besides, I was bored with the subject: “Anyway, I have poor taste in music.”

“Ha ha!” he said. “A self-effacing poet! I love it! So how about if I put some Mantovani on the Hi-Fi?”

“Mantovani would be great,” I said, although this was only a name to me, and, anyway, it was true, I had poor taste in music, or maybe it would be truer to say I had no taste in music.

“Well, I’m glad we got that fucking settled,” said Ferdinand. “Now how about some whiskey?”

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “So Mantovani’s okay with you fellows too?”

“Oh, yes, Mantovani’s fine,” said Horace, with a somewhat serious-looking expression on his face, as if he were attempting to give the impression that he cared.

“Ferdinand?” said Laughing Lou. “Mantovani all right?”

“Sure, great Lou,” said Ferdinand, and I could tell he was getting annoyed. “Fine.”

“Then we’ll play some Mantovani!” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!” He waved toward a round wooden table in the middle of the room, with four red-upholstered armchairs ranged around it. “Everybody, please, grab a chair.”

“Me too?” said Ferdinand.

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “Just sit anywhere you like, my tiny friend, unless of course you prefer to buzz merrily around?”

“Oh no, I’ll sit,” said Ferdinand. “I’ll sit on the edge of a rocks glass filled with whiskey if you don’t mind.”

“Ha ha! But of course my small buddy!” said Laughing Lou. “Please, sit, fellas. Make yourselves at home.”

Horace looked at me, I looked at him, and we went over to the table and sat down with our bottles of Tree Frog ale. Horace grabbed the chair facing the door, I took the one across from him. There were four glass ashtrays on the table, and Horace reached over and moved one closer, tapped his cigar ash into it.

Ferdinand buzzed around in a circle over the table.

“Any kind of whiskey for me, Lou,” he said.

“How about some more Heaven Sent bourbon?” said Laughing Lou, who had gone over to the Hi-Fi and was looking through the shelves of record albums on the wall next to it.

“Heaven Sent bourbon would be wonderful,” said Ferdinand.

“Here’s a good one,” said Laughing Lou. He put down his bottle of ale and held up a record album in its sleeve. “Mantovani Plays Songs for Desperate Lovers.”

“That’s great, Lou,” said Ferdinand. “Now put it on and then about that whiskey.”

“Yes, of course,” said Laughing Lou. He took the album out of its sleeve and put it on the turntable. “Just a moment –”

Ferdinand flew onto the porch of my ear and whispered, but rather loudly:

“I’m gonna kill this guy he doesn’t quit horsing around and break out the whiskey.”

“What’s that?” said Laughing Lou.

“I said I sure could go for some good whiskey right around now,” said Ferdinand. “I mean, when you get a minute.”

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “You scamp!”

Horace had been gulping his ale out of the bottle and now he put down the empty bottle with a sigh.

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “I’ll bet Horace would like some more whiskey, too, wouldn’t you, old man?”

“Yes,” said Horace. “Some whiskey would be nice, thank you.”

“Jesus fucking Christ,” whispered Ferdinand in my ear. “The shit you have to go through to get a drink sometimes.”
“What’s that?” said Laughing Lou.

“Nothing,” said Ferdinand. “Please, put the record on.”

“Just a sec here,” said Laughing Lou. He flicked some switches and some music with a lot of violins came on. He picked up his bottle of ale again and turned to us. “You dig that sound?” he said. “Ha ha! Got this Hi-Fi at Sears. A Philco, top of the line –”

“Yeah, it’s great,” said Ferdinand, yelling over the music. “Now, about that bourbon?”

“Oh! Ha ha! Yes, of course!” said Laughing Lou, and he went lumbering across the room to the bar.

I suppose I should add some more description to this room we were in. The walls were of shiny pale wood paneling, and on the walls were a lot of animal heads mounted on plaques – bears, mountain lions, what I supposed were elk or deer or moose, what did I know? At the opposite side of the room from the doorway was a large broad desk, with some padded arm chairs in front of it, and one especially big chair behind it. In back of the desk were French windows with dark trees beyond, and a starry nighttime sky above the trees.

Ferdinand was still in my ear.

“Actually I hate Mantovani,” he said. “But I do like whiskey.”

“What did he say?” said Horace.

Ferdinand flew over to Horace’s ear, and I heard Ferdinand whispering something.

“Oh, you are naughty!” said Horace, in a low voice.

“What’s that?” called out Laughing Lou from the bar.

“He said where’s that whiskey!” said Ferdinand.

“Ha ha!” said Laughing Lou. “Coming up! Anyone want some ice? Soda? Branch water”

“Just the bottle and some glasses, my friend,” said Ferdinand. “We are not picky, are we, boys?”

“Oh, no, indeed no,” said Horace. “Not picky at all! Just straight for me, thanks, Lou.”

“Arnold?” yelled Laughing Lou. “Ice? Soda? Water?”

“I’m good with my ale,” I said. “No whiskey for me, thank you.”

“Bring him a glass, Lou,” said Ferdinand. “I know this guy. He plays hard to get with the booze, but he can put it away with the best of them.”

“Ha ha!” yelled Laughing Lou. “A man after my own heart!”

I took a drink of my Tree Frog ale, out of the bottle. It tasted good, but then, like Horace, I wasn’t picky.

Laughing Lou finally came over to the table, carrying a chrome or chrome-like cocktail tray with a full bottle of Heaven Sent bourbon on it, four squat rectangular glasses, and his bottle of Tree Frog ale. He put the tray down on the table, opened the bottle, and filled each glass about a quarter of the way full, in other words about a quadruple shot in each. He recapped the bottle and then put one glass of bourbon each before me and Horace. He put a third glass at the empty place to my left.

“One for the little guy,” he said.

“Thanks,” said Ferdinand. “At long last. Thank you.”

And he flew down into the whiskey without another word.

Lou took the fourth glass and his bottle of ale and sat down at the empty chair to my right. He pulled an ashtray closer to his place and tapped his cigar ash into it.

“So, gentlemen,” he said. He turned his whiskey glass around on its base, turning it first one way and then the other. “Now that we’re alone, at last, and with libations to hand – shall we have a little chat? Ha ha!”

Horace had gulped down half his whiskey, and he put the glass down on the table looking much more relaxed than he had a moment ago.

“Sure, Lou,” he said. “What shall we chat about?”

Ferdinand didn’t say anything, he was busy lapping up whiskey.

I didn’t say anything either, but I did take another good gulp of my ale.

“Let’s talk about how we might be able to – help each other out,” said Laughing Lou.

I looked at Horace. Now he didn’t look so relaxed.

Ferdinand just kept lapping his whiskey, and I thought that, yes, I would probably soon have to take care of him again, something I was getting used to; but after all, he was my friend.

“You see I know what you fellows want,” said Laughing Lou, and now he wasn’t laughing.

“You mean whiskey and ale?” said Horace. “’Cause I could go for another one of these Tree Frogs if you got any back here, just to wash the whiskey burn away, ya understand.”

“I know what you want even more than whiskey and ale,” said Laughing Lou. “And, yes, ha ha, don’t say it, even more than some free or reasonably-priced tail, ha ha! No, I know what you want even more than that.”

“More than whiskey, ale, and tail?” said Horace. “You’re joking, right?”

“Oh no, I am not joking, sir, not joking at all.” Laughing Lou picked up his bottle of ale. It didn’t look as if he had drunk from it yet, but now he lifted it up and drank, gulping three or four times, and then finally laid the bottle down, empty. He sighed, and then he spoke. “Allow me if you will to ask you this.”

But then he didn’t say anything.

“What’s that, Lou?” said Horace, because obviously someone had to say something.

“Allow me to ask you this,” said Laughing Lou.

“Um, yes?” said Horace.

“My question is,” said Laughing Lou, “how would you three stout fellows like –”

Again he paused.

“Yes,” said Horace.

“How would you like,” said the annoying big fat man – and then, after another pause – “a way out?”

Another silence followed. It was obvious that Laughing Lou was in no hurry to get to his point if he had one.

“Well,” said Horace, I suppose because it was obvious that Laughing Lou had no intention of going on until he was prompted, “I guess that depends on what you mean by ‘a way out’.” He looked at me, as if I could be any help. “Right, Arnie?”

I didn’t say anything.

“Oh, I think Arnold knows what I mean when I say ‘a way out’,” said Laughing Lou. “Don’t you, Arnold? Ha ha!”

He took a drink of his whiskey. Yes, he was in no hurry, and there was nothing to do but wait, either that or get up and leave, but, as I have said, I had nowhere else to go.

He laid the glass down, and gave an exaggerated-seeming sigh. 

“Yes, I am offering you three fellows a way out –” he said, and then paused again, and I admit I had sudden urge to scream, but I kept it in.

He was being so annoying that even Ferdinand took a break from slurping his whiskey and jumped up to the edge of his glass.

“Jesus Christ, man,” he said. “Will you just fucking say it! A way out of what?”

“Ha ha!” said Lou. “I am offering you three stout chaps a way out –”

Again, a pause.

I looked at Horace. He picked up his glass again and drank, then laid the glass, empty, down on the table.

Laughing Lou continued to stretch out his pause, and I had to pull my hand away from the table to keep it from grabbing the whiskey bottle and smashing the man over the head with it.

“What?” screamed Ferdinand. 

Horace suddenly reached out and grabbed the bourbon bottle, unscrewed the cap, and poured himself another quadruple.

“Yes, help yourself, please,” said Laughing Lou. “Ha ha!”

Horace put down the bottle, tossed its cap on the table, picked up his glass, and drank. He laid the glass down, half its contents gone, and then said, “A way out of what, Lou?”

“A way out –” said Laughing Lou.

“Yes!” yelled Ferdinand, “a way out, a way out – a way out of fucking what?

Laughing Lou smiled, and then just before all hell might have broken loose, he spoke.

“A way out of this world,” he said.

He didn’t laugh.

(Continued here, thanks in part to the generous sponsorship of Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at the corner of Bleecker and the Bowery. “Beat the heat with a cold mug of Bob’s famous ‘basement-brewed’ house bock, then, what the heck, have another!” – Horace P. Sternwall, author, poet, and public speaker.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find what may be a reasonably-current listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; nihil obstat: Bishop John J. “Big Jack” Graham. D.D.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Gwendolyn and Mr. Blythe”

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of Underappreciated Literature, Olney Community College; editor of “Say Hey to All the Mob for Me”: the Prison Letters of Horace P. Sternwall; the Olney Community College Press.

(Original illustrations by rhoda penmarq  for penmarqstudios international and pangalactic productions, ltd.)

Gwendolyn and Mr. Blythe”
by Horace P. Sternwall

“Now you be good, darling,” said Auntie Margaret.

“I’ll be good, Auntie,” said Gwendolyn.

“Read a book, and be sure to go to bed by ten if I’m not back by then.”

“Oh, I doubt you’ll be back by ten, my dear,” said Serge.

“Not bloody likely,” said Pierre.

“Do mind your language, Pierre,” said Auntie Margaret.

“So sorry, my dear,” said Pierre.

“Would you like me to have Mortimer check on you, darling?” said Auntie Margaret.

“I don’t think that will be necessary, Auntie,” said Gwendolyn.

“If you want anything to eat, just call room service.”

“We really should dash, dear Margaret,” said Serge. “Tommy Sullivan don’t like to be kept waiting.”

“Tommy Sullivan will wait quite as long as he has to,” said Auntie Margaret.

Serge shrugged. He never argued with Auntie Margaret, and neither did Pierre. No one ever argued with Auntie Margaret, and why would they? She was the most beautiful woman Gwendolyn had ever seen, and someday Gwendolyn hoped to be just like her.

Auntie bent down and put her face next to Gwendolyn’s, and made a brief kissing movement with her luscious red lips.

Then she straightened up and turned to Serge and Pierre, who were standing there by the open door, both of them smoking cigarettes.

“All right, you mugs,” she said. “Let’s blow.”

“Soyez sage, ma petite,”
Pierre said to Gwendolyn.

“Je suis toujours ‘sage’!” said Gwendolyn.

“Indeed she is,” said Serge. “Do you want us to bring anything back for you, ma p’tite ange?”

“Nothing, thank you,” said Gwendolyn.

Ciao, darling,” said Auntie.

Ciao, Auntie Margaret,” said Gwendolyn.

The three of them filed out, Serge closed the door, and at last they were gone.

Gwendolyn waited five minutes, just to make sure they were clear of the lobby, then she took Auntie’s pink angora shawl off the dresser and Auntie’s pink leather purse and Jane Eyre and went out the door herself.


“Well, hello, little missy,” said Mortimer the elevator operator.

“Hi, Mortimer,” said Gwendolyn. “Lobby, please.”

“Lobby it is,” he said. He closed the grill-work doors of the elevator, pulled his great lever, and the cage began its slow and jolting descent.

They were almost to the second floor when suddenly Mortimer pulled his lever again and stopped the elevator with a jolt, but then he always stopped it with a jolt, just not usually between floors.

“Hey, wait a minute, missy,” he said. “Your Aunt Margaret just told me to keep an eye on you, and to make sure you didn’t get into any mischief.”

“I’m only going down to the lobby to read my book.” She held up the book for him to see. “See? Jane Eyre. Did you ever read it?”

“No, I gotta say I never did,” said Mortimer. “I did however see the movie with Mr. Orson Welles and Miss Joan Fontaine.”

“The book is ever so much better.”

“I don’t really have a whole lotta time for reading books,” said Mortimer.

“You should read it, Mortimer. It’s ever so good.”

“Well, maybe someday,” he said.

“Can you please start the car again now and take me down?”

“Ah, gee, missy, I told your aunt –”

“She told me I could go down to the lobby.”

“She did?”

“Yes. Girl Scout’s honor.”

“Well, okay, then. You promise you won’t run out onto the avenue or nothing?”

“Why ever would I want to run out into the avenue?”

“How do I know? I don’t know what little girls like to do.”

“I’m not a little girl. I’m twelve. Now start the car please. I’m becoming quite claustrophobic standing here.”

“Oh, all right. But just promise me you’ll stay in the lobby.”

“I promise, Mortimer.”

“Well, okay then.”

He pulled his lever once again and the car lurched and started again to descend.

Men, thought Gwendolyn. They really were just puppets to be bent to a woman’s will, just as Auntie Margaret said.


Once out in the lobby Gwendolyn immediately went over to where old Mr. Blythe sat in his usual place at one end of the faded old divan, next to the enormous rubber plant, which, like Mr. Blythe, seemed perpetually on the verge of death.

“Hello, Mr. Blythe,” she said.

“Hello, Gertrude,” said Mr. Blythe.

“Gwendolyn,” said Gwendolyn.

“Gwendolyn, yes,” said Mr. Blythe. “How are you, my dear?”

“Very well, thank you. How are you, Mr. Blythe?’

Mr. Blythe paused before answering. He paused so long that Gwendolyn started to wonder if he was going to reply to her polite question at all.

But finally he spoke.

“I am not in pain. And I’m still alive. At my age this is the best one can hope for.”

“Would you mind if I sat next to you and read my book?”

“Not at all, my dear.”

Gwendolyn climbed onto the divan next to Mr. Blythe, to his right. On the small table to Mr. Blythe’s left was a glass half full of Mr. Blythe’s usual sherry and a cut-glass ashtray in which sat his usual rather large Cuban cigar, one-third smoked.

“I can read aloud for you if you like, Mr. Blythe,” said Gwendolyn.

“No, that’s all right, thank you very much, Gertrude.”

He went into one of his long pauses, or maybe it wasn’t a pause, maybe he had said all he was going to say for the time being.

She had just opened her book to her place though when he did speak.

“I’ve read so many books you see, Gertrude. Thousands of books. They teem and swirl about in my brain, mixed in with all the thousands of people I’ve met, the millions of moments I’ve lived. All of it. All of it. It almost seems redundant to read at this point in my life.”

He reached over and picked up his cigar. He put it into his dry old lips and drew on it. A bit of ash fell onto his suit, but he didn’t seem to notice, or if he noticed he didn’t seem to care.

Soon, Gwendolyn knew, he would fall asleep, and that was when she would make her move.

She had lifted a five-spot the last time, and a tenner the time before. Tonight with any luck she would find a double sawbuck in his wallet, or, failing that, in his vest pocket, or one of the side pockets of his suit coat. The old fellow was always practically bristling with greenbacks, and he obviously had more of them than he knew what to do with.

Auntie Margaret always told her a girl had to look out for herself.


(Originally published in somewhat different form and with profuse illustrations by rhoda penmarq in "Tales of the Hotel St Crispian".)

(We will be back next week with a brand new chapter of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™!)