Friday, March 13, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 431: bohemians

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel on a wet hot night in Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Street, with his friends Horace P. Sternwall and Ferdinand the talking fly, as well as two attractive young women: Missy and Muriel, the latter of whom has just produced a pistol… 

(Kindly click here to read our preceding chapter. If you think you’re ready for the long haul then go here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume memoir.)

“When the final roll is called of the giants of 20th century American literature surely one name will take pride of place: Arnold Schnabel – and with his good friend Horace P. Sternwall standing right up there with him.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Wall Street Journal Literary Supplement.

At the risk of boring any hypothetical reader I might improbably have, not to mention myself, I feel I must here interpolate the fact that now that we had entered (or re-entered as the case might be) this current reality, not only was I very hungry, and half drunk, but also all the injuries, aches, scrapes and bruises I had incurred since so long ago passing once again into the realm of bad fiction now made themselves felt, at first gradually, but then, as of a few moments ago, all at once: my head hurt in two places, as did my forearms and elbows, and my knees, particularly my right knee, and also both shins. And so I didn’t walk over to Muriel and her gun so much as to say I limped and shambled. 

And as if it wasn’t disturbing enough to have a pistol pointed at me (and this was at least the third or fourth time this evening I had had someone point a gun at me; in a way I felt like I was getting used to it, almost), as I drew closer to Muriel I realized that her face looked nightmarishly as if she had been devouring fresh raw meat, and, as Missy now lowered her hands from her face I saw that she too seemed to have been sharing the same savage meal. But then I quickly realized that these sanguinary blotches were only the result of the young ladies’ passionate kisses smearing their lipstick.

“What the hell is your problem, seersucker,” said Muriel, “shufflin’ and jivin’ like that?”

“Sorry,” I said, genuinely gritting my teeth, “but I had a few little, uh, accidents tonight, falling down and whatnot, and so –”

“Maybe if you didn’t get so damn drunk you wouldn’t have to fall down,” she said. “You ever think of that?”

“Well, that’s a good point,” I said, wanting to keep her happy especially as long as she had a gun pointed at me. “But, uh, actually, it was all a little more complicated than just being drunk, heh heh –”

“You just stop right there, mister, because I am not getting paid to listen to your damn fool excuses,” she said.

“What a bitch,” said Ferdinand, but I realized he was being sensible and communicating only in the telepathic realm.

Muriel took a drag on her Herbert Tareyton, while moving the aim of her pistol back and forth from Horace’s midsection to my own. “Now, one of you, talk. How do you know our names?”

“You wouldn’t believe it if we told you,” said Ferdinand speaking aloud now, and buzzing around just above mine and Horace’s head in a blasé-seeming way.

“If I don’t believe it,” said Muriel, “somebody gets a bullet, and maybe you’ll be the first one, Mr. Fly.”

“Dyke,” said Ferdinand.

“What?” said Muriel.

“You heard me,” said Ferdinand.

“Don’t think I can’t plug you with this pistol,” she said. “Minuscule as you are.”

“Go ahead and try it, Annie Oakley.”

“All right,” she said, and she raised that little automatic.

“Wait!” said Horace. He had still been holding his hands out, palms forward, but now he raised them higher. “Please, Muriel, we can explain everything!”

“Sure,” she said. “After I shoot this here fly.”

“Go ahead, Lizzie,” said Ferdinand. “Ten to one you miss.”

“Maybe you’re right, pipsqueak,” she said. “Maybe I oughta just shoot your two buddies then.”

She now pointed the pistol directly at me, and so I was moved to speak, and quickly.

“Please, miss,” I said, trying not to gasp in pain. “Muriel? May I call you Muriel?”

“Knock yourself out, seersucker,” she said.

“Muriel,” I said, “I want to apologize for Ferdinand.”

“Don’t apologize for me, pal,” said Ferdinand.

“Ferdinand,” I said, “you’re not helping. Now will you please not interrupt me?”

“Fine,” he said. “Go right ahead.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“Apologize to a dyke,” he said, but fortunately I realized he was communicating not out loud but telepathically again, so I continued.

“I’m waiting, seersucker,” said Muriel.

“Yes,” I said, trying desperately to gather my mental forces, which, as the attentive reader (supposing against all odds I finally have one) might have noticed, is not something I do easily under the best of circumstances, not to mention ones like those I now found myself in, or under, or surrounded by; and so I got distracted – “by the way, before I begin –”


“You, uh –” I touched my lips with my finger. “You, both of you, your lipstick, uh –”

“Oh! Hold still,” she said. “And don’t try anything, or I swear I’ll plug you. This may be only a little ol’ .32 but it’ll kill you just as dead as a .45 at this range.”

“I’m sure it will,” I said, just trying to be agreeable.

“Hush up just a minute, seersucker.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“Don’t be sorry, just keep your trap shut for one minute if you think you can manage that, and that goes for you too, Howard P. Stumpernickel and especially you Felix the Fly.”

“Actually my name is –” started Horace, and simultaneously Ferdinand said, “My name ain’t Felix, Gertrude Stein –” but Muriel cut them both short.

“I said clam up! Don’t say another word, none of you! Not one word!”

Amazingly all three of us kept silent, something which had rarely happened in the course of our comradeship.

Keeping me and Horace covered (and Ferdinand too, I suppose) Muriel now glanced at Missy. 

“He’s right, isn’t he?” she said to the blonde girl. “About our lipstick?”

“Yes,” said Missy. “I’m afraid we both must look a fright! Here, let me –”

She opened her black plastic purse and took out a handkerchief, one of those ladies’ handkerchiefs with lace edging, and after giving it a lick with her tongue she wiped at the lipstick around Muriel’s mouth, while Muriel continued to keep an eye on me and Horace and Ferdinand.

While this was going on, and despite the rich and manifold physical pain I was in, I noticed things about Muriel and Missy that Horace hadn’t mentioned in Slaves of Sappho: a thin gold chain – I say gold, but what did and do I know? – at any rate a liquid-thin gold-colored necklace around her neck – a chain so thin it almost looked as if it were painted on her white flesh with an artist’s brush – as well as small diamond and gold earrings (again, for all I know they were from Woolworth’s) on her ears, a small watch with a gold or goldlike band on one wrist, a possibly gold thin linked bracelet on the other, and on her fingers a couple of rings which I choose not to attempt to describe except to say they looked expensive to my untrained eye. Missy also wore jewelry – earrings, a necklace, bracelets, a ring – and I suppose we can assume these were most likely of the more inexpensive Macy’s variety. I also noticed in the streetlamp light a small scar, somehow not ugly, on Muriel’s jaw, and a slight skin blemish on Missy’s cheek, showing through a dab of makeup. I don’t know why Horace didn’t include any of these details in his novel; perhaps he thought it best to leave some things to the reader’s imagination, or perhaps he chose not to bring the narrative to a crashing halt, just as I have now done.

“There, that’s much better!” said Missy, admiring her handiwork with a cocked head.

“Thanks, doll,” said Muriel.

Missy now took a compact out of her purse, clicked it open, and, peering with raised eyebrows into its mirror, set to dabbing her own face.

Horace glanced at me and made a face, and I think the face was saying, I know this is absurd, but I find this all terribly arousing!

“Okay!” said Muriel. “Now that we have that out of the way – Mr. Seersucker, I believe you were about to do some explaining?”

“Oh, right,” I said, trying to concentrate, and to ignore the various physical pains which dominated my sense of self at that juncture. “Okay. Now – this is maybe going to sound hard to believe –”

“Harder to believe than a talking smart-mouth fly?”

“Well, no, now that you mention it –” I said.

“Muriel,” said Missy – clicking her compact shut and dropping it and her handkerchief back into her purse – “let’s just go, can’t we?”

“No, baby,” said Muriel. “Not till we get to the bottom of this little mystery right here.”

“Excuse me – may I say something?” said Horace.

“By all means,” said Muriel.

“I just want to suggest that perhaps – perhaps I say – we really would be so much more comfortable talking it all over while sitting down and having a nice cocktail or two?”

“Now you’re talking, Horace,” said Ferdinand.

“And I insist on it being my treat,” said Horace. “You ladies were heading, were you not, to the Kettle of Fish? One of my favorite stops, if I do say so.”

He lowered his hands in a tentative sort of way.

“What do you say, gals?”

Muriel actually seemed to be hesitating for a moment before finally saying no when I saw a green-black-and-white police car coming down MacDougal. Muriel saw my eyes, then saw the police car, and quickly slipped the pistol into her bag.

The police car drew to a stop abreast of our little band. There were two policemen in it, and the closest one, the one at the wheel, addressed us.

“Everything okay here?”

“Sure, everything’s fine, officer,” said Horace.

The cop looked a lot like Broderick Crawford, which I suppose made sense if we were still in a Horace P. Sternwall novel. I couldn’t get a good look at his partner, but from what I could see he looked like the actor Steve Brodie.

The cop looked at Horace, and at me, at our wrinkled, worn and dirty clothes, and then he addressed the two girls.

“These guys bothering you ladies?”

I turned and looked at Muriel, at Missy, as did Horace, as probably did Ferdinand. Our fates, as the mythical “they” say, were in their hands.

Muriel glanced at Missy, some secret communication seemed to transpire, and then Muriel spoke.

“Not at all, officer,” she said.

“You’re sure?” said the cop.

“Yes, everything is quite all right,” said Muriel.

“Reason I ask is these two look like a couple of hoboes.”

“They are merely writers,” said Muriel. “Bohemians so to speak.”

“Oh, I get it,” said the policeman. “Well, this is Greenwich Village, ain’t it?”

“It is indeed, officer,” said Muriel.

“What about you, miss?” said the cop, addressing Missy. “You’re awfully quiet.”

“I’m the quiet type,” said Missy.

“Well, okay, then,” said the cop. He turned to his companion for a moment, then put the car in gear and pulled out down the street.

Horace immediately turned to Muriel and to Missy.

“May I just say, ‘Thank you?’”

“For what?” said Muriel.

“For not, well, telling those policemen that we were – shall we say, bothering you ladies in any way –”

“And have you turn me in for carrying a concealed weapon?” She took a drag of her Herbert Tareyton. “But, after all, it wasn’t like y’all were exactly breaking any laws.”

“Precisely!” said Horace.

“Well, now that we have averted that crisis,” said Ferdinand, “how about those cocktails Horace mentioned?”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, shorty,” said Muriel. “I still want to know how you boys know our names.”

Suddenly I let out a yelp of pain.

“What’s the matter with you now, seersucker?” said Muriel.

“It’s my knee,” I said, truthfully, squeezing the words through my teeth. “I really hurt it earlier tonight, and now I’m getting these awful shooting pains –”

“Well, maybe now you’ll think twice before getting so sloppy stupid drunk!” said Muriel.

“Ahhh,” was all I could say in reply.

“Do you want to hold onto my arm, Arnie?” said Horace.

“Yes, please,” I managed to gasp out, and I hooked my arm in his and lifted my right foot off the pavement.

“Look,” said Horace, “why don’t we all just get Arnold over to the bar where he can sit down and take a load off that leg?”

“No, Horace!” I said, through the pain and my gritted teeth.

“Why the hell not, Arnie?” he said. “Look at you, you look like you’re ready to pass out, for Christ’s sake –”

“We can’t – go – into – a bar!” I managed to say.

“Why the hell not?” he said.

“Because – every – time – I go into – a bar –”

I was in so much pain that I couldn’t get the words out.

“What, buddy?” said Horace.

“Something crazy happens!” I shouted.

“Look, don’t be stupid, Arnie,” he said, and he pulled on my arm. “Let’s just get you over to the Kettle –”

“No!” I yelled. I pulled my arm free, but now that I didn’t have Horace to support me I started to fall, and so I reflexively lowered my right foot, and as soon as it touched the pavement a bolt of pain immediately shot up from my knee again, like a bullet of molten lead. 

I shouted, ignominiously, a hoarse black bark from the depths of my inner beast, and then I pitched headlong to the pavement, wishing as I fell that I could just pass out now.

But I wasn’t that lucky.

(To be continued, of course!)

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Unknown said...

Love the raw meat image!

Dan Leo said...

It was either that or a vampire reference!