Let’s return to old Greenwich Village and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his divine friend “Josh”, just outside the entrance of Philpot’s Rare Book Shop on MacDougal Street, on this hot wet night in August of 1957...
(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you’ve got absolutely nothing better to do with your precious time on this earth you many click here to return to the only dimly-remembered beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 59-volume memoir.)
“Only a writer with the unique genius of Arnold Schnabel could do what no author before him has done: to render truly ‘human’ the only son of God. – Harold Bloom, in the Catholic Standard & Times Literary Supplement.
He looked at me.
He looked at me but said nothing.
I wish I could explain what it’s like to have the son of God standing right there in front of you, somewhat drunk, the son of God that is – although now that I mention it I was drunk too, so let me rephrase that as: I wish I could explain how it felt to be drunk (and drugged, now that I think of it) and to have the even drunker (but presumably not drugged) son of God standing right there in front of you staring into your eyes.
I suppose there is no way to describe it, or at least there’s no way for me to describe it, so I won’t.
Josh didn’t seem to mind these long pauses. What was a long pause to him who had always existed, and who, presumably, always would exist? I however was a mere mortal, and so after a very long minute I spoke up.
“I mean, like, what is it I can – or – um –?” I said.
“I need your help,” he said, again.
So he was like a human being in that when he was drunk he repeated himself, in an annoying way.
“Yes,” I said, just trying to move it along, “so – like, uh, just tell me how I can, um, you know –”
“It’s a little awkward,” he said, abruptly putting a halt to my dithering, staring into my eyes, and now I remember what it was like, looking into his eyes. It was like when I looked through Nicky’s cigarette holder and I could see the whole world through it, except looking into Josh’s eyes was like looking at the whole universe, and at all of time, past and future and present, the lives and deaths of all creatures, the lives and deaths of whole galaxies and myriad dimensions.
I had to look away, out at MacDougal Street.
I took a breath. Josh was in the midst of another pause, so I took it upon myself to speak up again.
“Well, might as well just come out with it, Josh,” I said. “I mean –”
I stopped my sentence there, because I didn’t know what I meant, if anything.
Josh was taking a drag on his cigarette, and he slowly exhaled the smoke into the night air before speaking.
“What?” he said.
“Pardon me?” I said.
“You said, ‘I mean –’” he said. “What do you mean?”
“I have no idea,” I said. “It’s just the way we humans talk. We say things that mean nothing all the time.”
“Y’know,” he said, “I’ve noticed that.”
It started to rain. Again.
“Shit,” I said, and I stepped back closer to the door of Mr. Philpot’s shop, so that I would be sheltered by the short canvas awning above it.
“What’s the matter?” said Josh.
“This rain,” I said. “I can’t believe it’s starting to rain again.”
“Why?” he said.
He was serious.
“Never mind,” I said. “So, Josh, what is it? You can tell me.”
I really did want to know what he was talking about, but on another and maybe even more meaningful level, I was really getting bored, although I certainly wouldn’t tell Josh that.
“It’s about Carlotta,” he said, finally.
“Oh,” I said.
I should have known.
“What?” he said.
“Nothing,” I said. “Just, ‘Oh.’”
“But you said it with a certain, how shall I put it, significance.”
“Well,” I said, trying actually to tell the truth for a change,
“I guess it’s just that the last time we talked you were talking about maybe marrying Carlotta, and I know you’ve spent some, uh, time with her tonight and all, so, you know, I guess I’m just not surprised that it’s Carlotta you want to talk about. Or –”
“Okay,” he said.
“You know,” I said.
“Right,” he said. “But you know what’s weird?”
“Everything?” I said.
“Ha ha, good one, but you know what’s particularly weird right now?”
“I can think of a lot of things, Josh,” I said. “So why don’t you just tell me.”
“What’s weird is that I had to ask you what you meant. I should have been able to read your mind.”
“That’s what’s weird.”
“I really am becoming more human by the minute.”
I didn’t know what to say to this. I chose to say nothing.
Another awkward silence ensued.
He stood there smoking, not staring at me – thank God, or him, since he was after all the son of God and according to Church doctrine indivisible from God the father, not to mention from the holy ghost – but looking out at the crashing rain and the street.
The rain was noisy, especially the clatter it made on the awning right above our heads, but nevertheless I could hear Ben’s booming voice from within the shop, shouting in what sounded like a happy way, or at least in a way intended to sound happy.
A car sluiced down the rainy street. I couldn’t tell what kind of car it was, the falling rain was so thick and blurry. And of course it doesn’t matter what kind of car it was.
The yellowish-orangish-reddish neon BAR sign of the Kettle of Fish across the street glowed vaguely through that living crashing torrent, and very faintly I could hear jazz music emanating from the place.
A couple of minutes passed like this, and finally I couldn’t take the silence anymore, so, just to say something I said:
“Well, you wanted to be human, right?”
Now he looked at me, and after another but shorter pause, he said:
“Yes, that’s what I wanted. Or what I thought I wanted.”
He took a drag on his Pall Mall, looking at me with those blue eyes of his, but now, instead of containing universes of universes, they almost looked like a normal man’s eyes, the eyes of just another man alone in the universe.
I sighed, for the one-thousandth time since last I had slept.
The rain clattered down like millions of marbles on the awning over our heads, it crashed to the steps leading down to the pavement, it splattered and exploded all over the sidewalk and the street.
The laudanum I had drunk was evidently already starting to wear off, and my various pains – in both my legs, my arms, my head – were starting to make themselves felt again, and along with them came the return of my hunger for some sort of food, preferably hot and lots of it. Had I really not eaten since breakfast?
“What?” said Josh, suddenly.
“Pardon me?” I said.
“You’re thinking something. It’s true I can no longer read your mind, but I can tell you have something on your mind.”
He was correct there. I had hamburgers and french fries on my mind. But for some reason I didn’t admit this.
“Um,” I said.
“Okay,” said Josh. “Maybe I’m wrong, but I think I know what you’re thinking.”
“Yes?” I said.
“You’re thinking it’s a bad idea.”
“What is?” I said.
“Me and Carlotta,” he said.
“Yes?” I said.
“Or am I wrong?”
“About what I’m thinking?”
“Well, yes,” I said.
“Yes I’m wrong or yes I’m correct.”
“I’m not sure,” I said, because now all I could think about was meatloaf, and mashed potatoes, all of it smothered with gravy.
“Earlier tonight you didn’t seem so unsure.”
“About what?” I said.
“Me and Carlotta. What did you think I was talking about?”
“Sorry,” I said.
“Or have you changed your mind?”
“About you and Carlotta?” I said.
Now it was his turn to sigh, he was becoming more human in that regard also.
“Yes, Arnold,” he said. “About me not knowing her long enough to ask her to marry me. About not making rash decisions when I’ve been drinking.”
“Well,” I said, trying to fight off visions of spaghetti and meatballs, “how long have you known her?”
He glanced at his wristwatch, which I hadn’t noticed before, all this time I had known him. Needless to say, it looked like a really nice watch, with a gold, or at least gold-colored band. Or maybe it was platinum, what did I know?
“Well,” he said, “It looks like I’ve known her for approximately two hours and fifty-eight minutes. So let’s round it out and say three hours.”
“That’s not a really long time,” I said.
“Well, for you it’s not, Arnold. For me it can either be like an eternity or like three seconds.”
“I know what you mean,” I said.
“Yes,” I said. After all it felt like four years and three months at least since I had had breakfast.
“On the other hand, yes,” he said, “I have been drinking quite a bit. Lots and lots all day, and now I just had a couple of jelly-glasses full of Mr. Philpot’s Royal Navy rum. Oh, by the way, where were you just now?”
“You mean before I got where I am right now?”
“Yes. You said you were just going to urinate.”
“Right,” I said.
“And after a few minutes you didn’t return, and so Ferdinand went to check up on you.”
“Right,” I said.
“And then he didn’t return, and we were starting to wonder what happened to the both of you, when all of a sudden you ring the doorbell and here you both are, and with that Sternhagen fellow.”
“Sternwall,” I said.
“Sorry, Sternwall. Harry T. Sternwall,” he said.
I decided to let it go, I didn’t want to be correcting the son of God all night.
“I slipped into another dimension,” I said.
“Again?” he said.
“Okay, I’ll bite. And what dimension was this?”
“It was the dimension of, um, the world of a cheap paperback novel by Horace called Rummies of the Open Road.”
“Horace? Who’s Horace?”
“The guy we were just talking about,” I said. “The guy I came here with.”
“So his name is not Harry?”
“No,” I said. “It’s Horace actually. Horace P. Sternwall.”
“You should have corrected me.”
“Sorry,” I said. “Anyway, I slipped into that other world, we had all sorts of crazy adventures, but somehow we all made it back here.”
“You were only gone about seven minutes.”
“It seemed a lot longer,” I said.
“Like what we were talking about,” he said.
“Time is relative.”
“I’m learning that,” I said.
“But we’re getting away from the subject.”
My stomach growled. You could hear it even over that crashing downpour of rain.
“What was that?” said Josh.
“My stomach,” I said.
“Are you sick? You don’t have a demon in there, do you?”
“No, Josh,” I said.
“You’re sure? Because that can happen, you know.”
“I’m just hungry,” I said.
“Hungry? For food?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m starving.”
“I hope you don’t mean that literally.”
“No,” I said. “But I really am hungry. I mean really hungry.”
“Then you should eat.”
“I would like to,” I said.
“Then we’ll get you some food,” he said. “You can eat, and we’ll talk while you eat. Because I really do need to talk to you, because I really do need your help.”
“Okay,” I said.
“What would you like to eat?”
“Anything,” I said.
“That can be arranged,” he said, and I realized he meant that literally.
“Just something hot,” I said. “Simple and hearty.”
“Great,” he said. “Where shall we go? Oh, wait, they serve food in that bar downstairs, that Valhalla place –”
“No,” I said. “Let’s not go there.”
“Okay, so what about the Kettle of Fish?”
“No,” I said.
“I’d say let’s try the San Remo but I don’t think they’ll let me in there –”
“No, I don’t want to go to either of those places,” I said.
“You’re being picky, Arnold. I thought you were hungry.”
“I am,” I said. “But I’ve had bad luck in all those places, Josh. I don’t want to push it.”
“There is this other place,” he said.
“Great, any place is fine except those three you mentioned.”
“It’s called Bob’s Bowery Bar.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Do you know it?”
“Isn’t that the bar below where I, or Porter, live, or lived?”
“Corner of Bleecker and the Bowery.”
“Right,” I said.
“Yes, uh, Carlotta and I, uh, stopped in there.”
“There you go again, with that ‘significance’ in your voice.”
I sighed, again.
“You really sigh a lot,” he said.
All I could respond with was another sigh.
“So do you want to go there?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said. “If they’re still serving food.”
“This is New York,” he said. “They’re probably still serving.”
“What time is it, anyway?”
(I said this because unlike myself – that is, the self who called himself Arnold Schnabel – the self who was me in this universe, “Porter Walker” – didn’t seem to wear a watch.)
Josh glanced at that nice watch of his again.
“It’s not even midnight yet,” he said.
“That’s impossible,” I said, forgetting myself.
“This is a Rolex, Arnold. It keeps very good time.”
“Maybe it broke when you got thrown out onto the pavement from the San Remo,” I said.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “You’re forgetting the relativity of time.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“Anyway, let’s go there then.”
“Okay,” I said.
“I liked it there.”
“Fine with me,” I said. I didn’t care, just as long as they had food of some sort.
“It was very –” he paused, again,
Now that food was in sight I didn’t want to waste any more time on long silences, so I spoke up.
“It was very what, Josh?”
“It was very –”
“It was very down to earth,” he said.
(Continued here, as we follow Arnold on a whole new volume of his adventures...)
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