Friday, November 7, 2014

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 417: not nothing

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, here in a dark evergreen forest with his friends the immortal Horace P. Sternwall (author of many revered classics, such as A Broad Named Maude and They Call Him Cad) and Ferdinand, the talking fly...

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you’re looking for a new and harmless hobby then click here to return to the very beginning of this 57-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“Arnold Schnabel somehow managed to make of himself not only the greatest and most original author in the American literary canon, but also one of its most engaging and delightful characters.” – Harold Bloom, in the
American Journal of Medicine.

Horace took my arm. I’m never comfortable having a man walk arm in arm with me, but in this dark forest I didn’t mind so much.

“Give me another hit off that muggles, will ya, Arnie?” he said.

I had forgotten I was holding the reefer. It was still lit, a tiny red – and, yes, somehow reassuring – fleck of light in this world of vaguely shifting blackness, and so from my right hand I passed it to his left hand, and as we trudged along on those dead needles and cones Horace proceeded to puff away with vigor.

“Ha ha,” said Ferdinand, somewhere invisibly ahead of us. “I like your style, Horace P. Sternwall, I really do!”

“Hey, you know what my motto is, my little friend?” said Horace in a tightened voice, without releasing the smoke from his lungs.

“No, I don’t,” said Ferdinand. “But I think you’re gonna tell us." 

Without breaking stride Horace exhaled a great opalescent cloud of smoke, and now I could see Ferdinand buzzing happily around inside it, breathing as much of it in as he could.

“Ha ha,” said Horace. “I dig your style, too, Ferdy. But here’s my motto.”

Before going on he took another puff on the “muggle”, and, holding in the smoke all the while, he spoke:

“Don’t put off. Any pleasure. Do it. Now. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Not an hour from now. Not a minute from now.”

He finally exhaled again, and once again Ferdinand hovered and twirled and spun in the midst of the fragrant smoke.

“What about one second from now?” said Ferdinand after he had sucked in and then exhaled all the smoke his minuscule lungs could hold.

“Not even a second!” said Horace, as we tramped on between those trees that were only barely less dark than the darkness in which they implacably stood. “What if you have a heart attack? What if a goddam piano falls on your head? What if they drop the fucking A-bomb?”

“Or what if some stupid housewife swats you with a fly-swatter?” said Ferdinand. “Or even worse, sprays some of that obnoxious poison shit Flit on you? What about that?”

“Ha ha!” said Horace. He squeezed my arm. “Don’t worry, Arnie. Here.” He held the reefer in front of me. “Take another toke.”

What could I do? 

True, I could have said no. Horace and Ferdinand would have chided me of course, but I don’t think the fear of their hearty masculine raillery was the reason why I took the reefer and puffed away on it quite freely as we made our way through that dark forest, no, I think it was because it was simply easier to do so, because I myself was quite simple, in the sense of “simpleton”.

“That’s our Arnie,” said Ferdinand.

“He’s not so bad,” said Horace.

“It’s his Roman Catholic background,” said Ferdinand. “He can’t help being a square sometimes.”

Horace squeezed my arm.

“Just remember, Arnie,” he said. “This is the second that counts, the one we’re in.”

“Horace is right,” said Ferdinand. “I’m a fly. You better believe I live second to second, man!”

I suddenly realized that the marijuana was strongly affecting my brain. I almost felt that I too was a fly, or maybe a moth, buzzing around in my head, trying to get out.

“But what if a second lasted forever?” I found myself blurting out.

“What?” said Horace.

“Yeah,” said Ferdinand. “What?”

“What if a second wasn’t followed by another second,” I said, tramping merrily along while taking another puff on the reefer.

“What the fuck are you saying, Arnie,” said Ferdinand, after a couple of seconds in which my last sentence seemed to vibrate in the darkness all around us, among those trees that were only slightly distinguishable from the air that surrounded them and me and my friends, those trees which now seemed almost to be obligingly stepping out of our way.

“Yeah,” said Horace. “What the fuck are you trying to say, Arnie?"

“What if all of existence was just one long continuous second,” I said. “One endless moment.”

“What the fuck?” said Horace.

“Yeah, man,” said Ferdinand. “What the fuck?”

“And not only endless, but without beginning either,” I said. “Just one enormous moment, no beginning, no end. No middle either. Just one moment which exists beyond the concepts of past and future, beyond even the concept of the present.”

Horace and I tramped along arm in arm through the darkness, following the faint but unmistakable buzzing of Ferdinand leading the way.

“What the fuck, Arnold,” said Horace after a while, again.

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

“Oh, wait,” I said. “The reefer has gone out. Horace, you want to get those matches out?”

“Tell ya what, Arnie,” said Horace. “Stick it in your shirt pocket, we’ll smoke the rest later.”

“But,” I said, “but what about this second?”

“Fuck this second,” said Horace, “because you’re giving me the heebie-jeebies.”

“Yeah, me, too, Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “Seriously, just put the joint away for a while.”

“Okay,” I said, and I dropped the extinguished reefer into my workshirt pocket.

“And try not to say anything really weird, at least until we’re out of these woods,” said Horace.

“I’ll try,” said the little moth inside my head. “I’m sorry.”

“Okay, don’t worry about it,” said Horace. “How much farther you think we got, Ferdinand?”

“Can’t be too much farther,” said Ferdinand.

“Thank God!” said Horace. 

“And I goddam hope it’s not much farther,” said Ferdinand.

“Yeah, me too,” said Horace.

“I’m sorry if I upset you guys,” I said. “It’s just that I got to thinking about the whole concept of time, and if it’s possible for existence to exist outside of any notion of –

"Arnie!” said Ferdinand. “What did we just ask you not to do?”

“Um,” I said.

“Yeah, Christ, Arnie,” said Horace. “Just keep a lid on it until we get out of these goddam creepy woods, okay?”

“Okay,” I said, “but –”

“But what, man?”

“That lady Lily said there was ‘nothing’ beyond the woods. So what if there really is nothing on the other side of these woods? I mean, literally nothing? What if the world just ends there, like a cliff, looking out on nothing – nothing but, like, the vast empty reaches of outer space?”

“Oh, Jesus, Arnie,” said Horace. “You’re fucking killing me.”

“Well, I’m only repeating what she said –”

“Arnie,” said Ferdinand. “Did I not fly above the trees, and did I not see lights in the distance?”

“Yes,” I said.

“So how can there be nothing out there if I saw lights?”

“I don’t know,” I said. 

“Lights are not nothing,” he said.

“That’s true,” I said.

“So there is something out there.”

“I guess so,” I said.

“What do you mean you guess so?”

“Yeah, Arnie,” said Horace, “you’re not even being logical now.”

“But what if those are just lights in the middle of the nothingness?” I said.

“Oh, for God’s sake, Arnie,” said Horace.

“Yeah, look, Arnie, do us all a favor and stop trying to scare the shit out of us.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to. But what if maybe the lights are a portal into another universe?”

“Arnie!” said Ferdinand.

“Yes?” I said.

“Just zip it, okay? Just till we get to wherever we’re going.”

If we ever get there, I said to myself.

“What do you mean, ‘If we ever get there’?” said Ferdinand.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”

Horace squeezed my arm again, hard this time.

He put his lips close to my ear as we stumbled on, and he whispered.

“Please just shut up for a while, Arnie. Or else I swear I’m going to get hysterical. I told you I’m a coward, so please just shut up for a while."

“Okay,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“All right,” said Ferdinand. “We got that settled, now let’s keep moving and get the hell out of this nightmare.”

It’s not easy to follow a fly in a dark forest, but Horace and I did our best, following Ferdinand by the sound of his buzzing and by his voice, as he checked in with us every minute or so.

“This way, guys, keep up now. You okay, Arnie?”

“Oh, sure,” I said.

“You’re sure?” he said.

“Oh, yes, I’m fine,” I said.

“You okay there, Horace?” said Ferdinand.

“Don’t worry about me, pal,” said Horace.

“Okay, just checkin’. You guys need to take a rest you just let me know.”

“We don’t need a rest,” said Horace. “Let’s just keep going. Right, Arnie?”

“Oh, sure,” I said.

I realized that I had upset my friends with my philosophical musings, and it seemed best just to try to forget about it and move on. I tried to make my mind a blank, because I was afraid if I thought something about time and infinity and nothingness and other universes that I might forget myself and speak my thoughts aloud.

But then I also realized at once that I am incapable of making my mind go blank, at least not willfully, and so I tried to occupy myself by thinking of something nice. I thought about Elektra – her smell, her voice, her kind eyes, her soft skin the color of a black-and-white milkshake. It seemed like five and a half years since I had last seen her, although I realized in another sense that it had not even been twelve hours. Maybe someday I would see her again.


Some day, some day or night, some hour in the future, but would that future be years from now, even if it were technically this very day?

Or was I to be marooned forever in worlds that did not even exist?

Would I finally find myself alone, for all eternity, in a state of darkness and nothingness? 

Would I be nothing?

Nothing, I thought. Nothingness. Nothing more nor less than nothing.


Only nothing.


“Arnie!” yelled Ferdinand.

“Yes, Ferdinand?” I said.

“Will you please shut up?”

Thank you, Ferdinand!” said Horace.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said. “Was I speaking aloud again?”

“Yes, you were speaking aloud!” said Ferdinand.

“Loud and clear!” said Horace.

“Jeeze, I’m sorry,” I said.

“Don’t be sorry,” said Ferdinand, “just stop doing it!”

“I will,” I said.

“Wait,” said Horace.

“What?” said Ferdinand.

Horace stopped, and stopped me with him.

“I just remembered I have a flask on me.”

“Oh, thank God,” said Ferdinand.

“I got it out of Laughing Lou’s glove compartment,” said Horace. “You like scotch, Ferdinand?”

“Yes, I like scotch,” said Ferdinand, “but at this point I’d take a quadruple shot of grain alcohol.”

“Let me just get it out,” said Horace, and he took his arm away from mine.

My eyes had gradually gotten much more adjusted to the darkness, and so I could just make out Horace reaching into his jacket and taking out Laughing Lou’s leather-encased flask. He unscrewed the cap on its little hinge.

“Just pour me a little in the palm of your hand, Horace,” said Ferdinand, “and I’ll lap it right up.”

“Will do, partner,” said Horace, and I vaguely saw him holding the flask upside down over his left hand, apparently letting a few drops fall into his upturned palm, and I could only just sort of make out Ferdinand flying into the tiny pool of whisky.

Horace lifted the flask to his lips with his free hand, and I heard him gulping.

He brought the flask away and sighed deeply.

“You want a hit, Arnie? If you promise to stop scaring the shit out of us?”

“Oh, no, thanks, Horace,” I said. “I’m good. But you two go ahead.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, “we will.”

I turned away, leaving them to their bibulous pleasures.

I looked out into those dark woods.

And then I thought I saw something, a faint glow of some sort.

I took a few steps ahead.

“Hey, Arnold,” said Horace. “Don’t go wandering off.”

“Oh, I won’t,” I said.

I went a few more steps, and suddenly I realized that I had stepped out of the forest. Right there in front of me, separated from the woods by a narrow scrubby verge, was a dark paved road. Above was a thick nighttime sky, with not a star in sight. Across the road I could just make out what looked like a wooden fence. And down to the right, across the road and set back from it, maybe a hundred yards away from where I stood, was the bulk of some sort of big house or building, with turrets and gables and dormers, and lights in windows.

This was not nothing.

(Continued here, an army of Schnabelists would have it no other way.)

(Kindly turn to the right hand column of this page to find a quite-frequently updated listing listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; available for your convenience also for a modest sum on your Kindle™. All proceeds to be disbursed by the editor of this blog in aid of The Arnold Schnabel Preservation Society™ of Philadelphia PA.) 


Unknown said...

True and beautiful, Arnold. Time is one piece. Catholics experience wonder and mystery, which sometimes makes them foolish and sometimes brings enlightenment. Have faith and you may reach the light--and find some food.

Dan Leo said...

At least some food!