On this hot rainy night in August of 1957, let us rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel (currently still in the persona of "Porter Walker, rising young bohemian poet") in the crowded and lively confines of Bob’s Bowery Bar, with his new friend the poet Lucius Pierrepont St. Cloud III, author of “Reefer and Port Wine” and Other Poems...
(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you suffer from a mania for seemingly endless reading projects then you may want to click here to go to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 72-volume memoir.)
“The world of Arnold Schnabel contains – sometimes precariously, it must be admitted – myriads of worlds which themselves contain myriads of worlds which needless to say contain myriads of other worlds, all of them containing Arnold’s world (and, yes, perhaps even our own).” – Harold Bloom, in the Better Homes & Gardens Literary Annual.
Now that I was moving again – after standing more or less still for so long on my ravaged legs – each step was a deeper and sharper agony, but I kept on because what else could I do? Fall to the floor (which I noticed was covered with sawdust as well as hundreds of butts of cigarettes and cigars and other assorted trash and human effluvia, it was almost like walking on a filthy public beach at the end of a hot August day) and writhe around moaning and crying? Whatever immediate relief this recourse might provide me would not last long. Someone would kick me, someone else would step on me, dancers would stomp their inebriated version of the Black Bottom on me. No, arm awkwardly in arm with that of Lucius Pierrepont St. Cloud III, I soldiered on, trying to be a man about it.
We had just emerged from the passageway to the rest rooms when a little dried-up looking man in his fifties or sixties emerged from the mob, stopped in front of me and pointed his finger at me. I should have just shoved him out of the way, but I stopped, and Lucius Pierrepont St. Cloud III perforce stopped also, as he still had my arm secured firmly in his.
“You!” said this new little man. In the small crabby hand that wasn’t pointing at me he held both a half-full bottle of Rheingold and a cigarette, which somehow made him seem oddly familiar, although now that I think about it, maybe oddly is the only way that seeming familiar can be. “Porter Walker!” he yelled up at me, as if I were way up high on the roof of a six-story building and he was down on the street.
“Yes?” I said.
“Hot shot!” he said, with a particularly unpleasant intonation. “Big shot!”
And then it came back to me, like a nightmare that only comes back to you when you are in the middle of your day: the bedraggled old baggy blue suit, the faded red and white polka-dot ascot, the dusty-looking black beret, the beard like the fur of an angry rat, the skin that looked more like the flesh of the belly of a bluefish caught last week than that of a man, the wire-rimmed glasses with the enormously-magnified eyes bulging behind them like two tiny dead planetoids – it was that obnoxious poet from the Kettle of Fish earlier that night or a year-and-a-half ago, whatever his name was, Something Something Zara Somethingski.
“Oh, hello,” I said, shouted.
“What are you doing? Following me around?”
“No,” I said.
“Then why are you here? And what are you doing with this dusky-skinned hack?”
“Hold on, man,” said Lucius Pierrepont St. Cloud III, “who you calling a hack. At least I am not living on the reputation of a book published thirty-five years ago that no one even remembers.”
“Impudent scoundrel!” said this other old man, and for the life of me I couldn’t remember his name. “It’s a good thing you’re a Negro or I would ask you to step outside for making a remark like that.”
“Fear not,” said Lucius Pierrepont St. Cloud III, “for I would not sully my knuckles with the grease on your scraggly-ass beard”
The black beret guy did not respond directly to this last remark, but addressed me again.
“You didn’t answer me. What are you doing with this brown-skinned mountebank.”
“Listen,” I said, “Mister –” I paused. I still had no idea what his name was.
“Yes?” he said.
“Mister, uh –”
“Go on, you’re almost there –”
“Mister, um, Zim. Zam. Za?”
“Damn your eyes.”
“Zama?” I said.
“Damn you and all you stand for!” he said.
“Zamara?” I said.
“Ha ha!” said Lucius Pierrepont III. “Ho ho.”
“Oh, Christ,” said the little man in the beret.
“Um,” I replied.
“Ha ha!” said Lucius Pierrepont St. Cloud III. “Ha ha, I say!”
“You,” said the little beret guy to me. At some point he had lowered the finger he had been pointing at me, but now he pointed it at me again, holding it so close to my face that I could see all too clearly the strip of black grime under the edge of its fingernail. “You arrogant young punk.”
“Um,” I said, doubling down on my articulateness.
“You really don’t remember my name, do you?” he said. He lowered his pointing hand, at least partway, but he kept the index finger extended, just in case I suppose.
“Zabadabumski?” I said.
“Wow,” he said.
“Ha ha!” said Lucius, I’m just going to write his first name from now on, because it’s too much work to write his whole name out each time. “Ha ha,” he said, rather than laughed. “He don’t remember your name, Martin!”
“Asshole,” said this man, to me, I knew his first name was Martin now, probably. He pointed his finger at me again. “How many fucking times did I tell you my name earlier tonight?”
“A lot,” I said.
“A lot,” he said. “And on top of that, a name which was the toast of the literary circles of not only New York but of Paris and London too, at one time!”
“Like forty years ago maybe,” said Lucius.
“Just, wow,” said this Martin guy. He transferred the bottle of Rheingold he was holding in his right hand to his left hand and took a drag on his cigarette, exhaling the smoke slowly up into my face. “Martin de Porres Zaramajevski,” he said. “You think you can remember that now? Martin de Porres Zaramajevski!”
“Fine,” I said.
“Yes. Say my name.”
“Uh, Martin de Something, uh, Zarasomething. Ski.”
“Ha ha!” said Lucius. “Ha ha!”
The Martin something guy stared at me.
“You want to step outside?”
“No,” I said.
“Why? You afraid?”
“No,” I said. “Because I’m hungry and I want to eat. Because my knees hurt and I want to sit. Because you are thirty years older than me and about half my size. And, because –”
“Because it’s raining,” I said.
“Fair enough,” he said. “How about if instead you apologize.”
“Okay,” I said. “I apologize.”
“I forget,” I said.
“You forget that you forgot my name?”
“Sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry for forgetting your name, and I’m sorry for forgetting that I forgot your name.”
“Ha ha!” said Lucius. “But why indeed should Porter not forget your name, Martin? The rest of the world has forgotten it!”
“Watch it, Sambo,” said Zaramajevski, that was his name, although I was already in the beginning stages of forgetting it again.
“Has-been!” said Lucius.
“Minstrel-show poetaster!” replied Zaramajevski.
“Desiccated little turd of yesteryear!” replied Lucius.
“Prancing black ape!” responded Zaramajevski, and I’m sure they would have gone on for hours in this fashion, but I suddenly had one of my brainwaves.
“Okay, tell you what,” I said, cutting right in, “why don’t you two go outside and settle your differences.”
“What?” said Lucius.
“Yeah,” said Zaramajevski. “What?”
“Why don’t you two gentlemen step outside and settle your differences,” I said. “Like gentlemen.”
“Go outside,” said Lucius.
“Out into that downpour?” said Zaramajevski.
“Shit, daddy-o,” said Lucius. “Like what the fuck, man?”
“Yeah, Mr. Hot Shot,” said Zaramajevski, “what do you want us to do, catch pneumonia?”
“Catch our fucking death out there,” said Lucius.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” said Zaramajevski. “Kill us both the fuck off.”
“Gee, Porter,” said Lucius, “I thought you were my friend, man.”
“Look,” I said. “I’m sorry I mentioned it. Don’t go outside. That was a bad idea. Now can we please just get that drink and get it over with?”
“What drink?” said Zaramajevski.
“Porter’s gonna buy me a drink,” said Lucius.
“What?” said Zaramajevski.
“You heard me,” said Lucius. “Porter is being so kind as to buy me a libation.”
Zaramajevski pointed that finger at me again. I had the strangest urge to grab it and twist it back until it snapped.
“Is this true?” he said. “You’re buying Uncle Remus here a drink?”
“Well, yes,” I admitted.
“But you wouldn’t buy me a drink earlier tonight at the Kettle of Fish. Don’t you think I don’t remember. I shall never forget! Never! And now you are about to buy a drink for the poetry world’s answer to Stepin Fetchit here!”
“Ha ha!” said Lucius. “Quite risible, Martin! Too bad Porter’s buying me a drink and fuck-all for you and your washed up skinny pale ass, ha ha!”
“So,” said Zaramajevski to me, ignoring Lucius’s laughter, which might have been genuine, but sounded fake. “You’ll buy a drink for a black man but not a white, is that it? Is this your suburban liberal posturing?”
“Ha ha again, Martin,” said Lucius. “Too bad for you, cracker!”
“Keep it up, monkeyshines,” said Zaramajevski, “and you’ll be eating this bottle of Rheingold, and I don’t care how Negro you are!”
“As if you would waste a bottle of Rheingold before you had drained it of its last drop!”
“I can drain this bottle pretty damn quick if I want to,” said Zaramajevski. “You want to see me chug it?”
“Okay, listen, the both of you,” I said. “I’ve had about all I can take. Let’s go to the bar, right now. I’ll buy you both a drink, okay? One quick drink apiece and then I’m rejoining my friend.”
“You have a friend?” said Zaramajevski.
“Of course he has a friend,” said Lucius. “Not everyone is friendless like you.”
“Why can’t we join you and your so-called friend, Porter?” said Zaramajevski.
“We’ve already covered that,” said Lucius. “He wants to be alone with his buddy.”
“So we’re not good enough for you, hey, Porter?” said Zaramajevski.
“Okay, that’s it. Forget it,” I said.
“Forget what?” said Zaramajevski.
“Yeah, forget what?” said Lucius.
“Forget the drinks,” I said. “Both of you.”
“But you promised,” said Lucius.
“Yeah,” said Zaramajevski. “You going back on your word?”
“Gee,” said Lucius. “See what you did, Zaramajevski?”
“Hey, man,” said Zaramajevski. “Don’t lay this shit on me. Talk to your buddy here.”
“I thought you were my friend, Porter,” said Lucius.
“Looks like you thought wrong, Lucius,” said Zaramajevski. “Looks like we’re both being screwed.” He turned to me. “Royally,” he said.
Suddenly I needed a drink, a stiff one, badly, and as soon as possible. I made to shove past Zaramajevski, but Lucius still had my arm in his, and he pulled me up short.
“Where you going, Porter?”
“I need a shot,” I said. “And a beer. Let go of me.”
“Can I come with you?”
“Yes, okay,” I said. “Whatever.”
"And you'll buy me a drink, heh heh?"
"Sure," I said.
“What about me?” said Zaramajevski.
“I don’t care,” I said.
“So you’ll buy me one too?”
“Sure,” I said. “Fine. But we have to go now this second.”
The next thing I knew he came up deftly beside me and grabbed my free arm, and, with Lucius still gripping my other arm in his, they hustled me through the mob, shoving people aside, yelling variations of “Out of our way” and “Watch it, Mac.”
We rounded the six-foot stretch of bar nearest the lavatories and battled our way to a space near the middle of the long part of the bar that faced the barroom. There were no empty stools, but Lucius and Zaramanga shoved me into a space about two feet wide, with both of them squeezed up close to either side of me.
“Get your money out!” cried Zaramanga.
“Let go of my arm!” I shouted back.
He did this, not without what seemed like reluctance, and I reached into my back pocket and brought out my wallet. I finally shook my other arm free of Lucius’s, and I opened my wallet.
“I only have like six dollars,” I said.
“That’s plenty, man,” said Lucius.
“This is Bob’s Bowery Bar,” said Zaramajevski. “Not one of them Greenwich Village tourist traps.”
“Lay the money down, daddy-o,” said Lucius. “Let old Bob see the green.”
“That’s right,” said Zaramajevski. “Put the money on the wood and make the betting good.”
I took the six dollars out, a crinkled five and a one, and laid them on the bar.
“Put that money back in your wallet,” said a woman who was sitting on the stool to my right.
“Pardon me?” I said.
She was dark-haired and pale-skinned. Her eyes were dark too, looking out from under short bangs and a wide-brimmed hat like the kind people wear in movies about the jungle. Her lips were red. She had one elbow on the bar and a cigarette in her hand. Her face was perfectly smooth and unsmiling, like a statue. She wore an ivory-colored short-sleeved shirt like a man’s, except instead of a tie she had a wispy white scarf around her neck.
“You heard me,” she said.
She picked up a ten dollar bill from a pile of money in front of her and tossed it down in front of Zaramajevski.
“Here, Martin,” she said. “You and Lucius take this and run along to the other end of the bar.”
“Sure thing, Miss Nadine,” said Lucius, and he reached across me and grabbed the ten-dollar bill.
“Half that’s mine, Booker T.!” said Zaramajevski.
“Did I say it wasn’t?” said Lucius. “Let’s go, man!”
And suddenly, as quick as that, they were gone.
“Thank you,” I said to the woman.
She took a slow drag on her cigarette before replying.
“Your money,” she said. “Put it away.”
She didn’t look like she was going to take no for an answer, and so I put the money back in my wallet and my wallet back in my pocket.
“What would you like to drink?” she said.
“Whiskey?” I said.
“The cheap kind?” I said.
“Okay,” I said.
She made a slight gesture with her little finger and suddenly a bartender was right there in front of us, a big, powerful looking white-haired man, wearing a short-sleeved open-necked white shirt, and a stained white apron.
“Double shot of Carstairs for my father here,” said the woman. “And a beer back. What kind of beer, champ?”
“The cheap kind,” I said.
(Continued here, as is only meet and just.)
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