Friday, July 31, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 449: ha ha

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the stately old Bleecker Street townhouse of the glamorous siblings Nadine, Terence and Cathy, on this rainy night in August of 1957...  

(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; go here to return to the far-off and mist-shrouded beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume autobiography.)

“Yes, the dog days have descended upon us, and what better way to pass the time than to sit in one’s easy chair in one’s comfortably air-conditioned study, happily losing oneself in the world (that world containing so many worlds, and worlds within worlds) of Arnold Schnabel?” – Harold Bloom, in the
Cape May Pennysaver Literary Supplement.

I sat up straight. Well, I sat up straighter, anyway. Nadine and Cathy were both touching me. Nadine was patting my back, Cathy was caressing my sweaty neck.

“Hurry, Terence,” said Nadine. “Go get Arnold a nice big plate of the bœuf bourguignon.”

“Should I heat it up?” asked Terence.

“Of course you should ‘heat it up’,” she said. “Arnold doesn’t want to eat cold bœuf bourguignon.”

“I wish Mrs. Murphy were awake,” said Terence.

“Well, Mrs. Murphy isn’t awake,” said Nadine, “or at least so one presumes.”

“I could ring her and see if she’s up,” said Terence. “You never know.”

“And what if she’s sleeping,” said Nadine. “You would wake that poor old woman up from a possibly sound sleep?”

“She might prefer to be woken up,” said Terence, “even from the soundest of sleeps, rather than have me clanging about with her precious pots and pans. I’ll just give her a ring.”

“You will not ring up that poor old dear, Terence. Now stop all this dilly-dallying and go and heat up some of that bœuf bourguignon for Arnold before he absolutely starves to death.”

“But why does it have to be me?” said Terence. “Why can’t you or Cathy do it?”

“Not me!” spoke up Cathy. “I can’t even boil water – you know that, mon frère.

“And you know I won’t go anywhere near that stove,” said Nadine. “It simply terrifies me,” she said, addressing me. “You have to light it with a match and I’m always so afraid it’s going to explode, like a – like an atom bomb!”

“You girls are so fucking hopeless,” said Terence. He took another drink from his highball. He still hadn’t moved an inch from where he was lounging back against the arm of the sofa. “Sorry for the language, Arnold,” he said.

“That’s okay,” I said. 

Now that I had composed myself somewhat, now that I was no longer on the verge of vomiting, all I wanted to do was escape.

“So, would you like some buttered egg noodles with your bœuf bourguignon?” said Terence. “We still have some of them left over. I’m afraid they won’t be exactly al dente after I’ve heated them up, but, you know – qu’est-ce qu’on va faire?”

“Listen,” I said. “Maybe I should just go.”

“Go?” said Nadine.

“What?” said Cathy.

“Pardon me?” said Terence.

I stole a glance at the colonel above the mantlepiece. He was still glowering down at me. With contempt. No, with disdain, that was it, a sort of disgusted disdain.

“Arnold?” said Nadine. “What’s the matter, dear boy? Mrs. Murphy’s bœuf bourguignon really is quite tasty.”

“It’s not that,” I said.

“Then what is it?”

“Yes, Arnold, tell us,” said Cathy.

“It shouldn’t take me longer than ten minutes to heat up a platter for you,” said Terence. “Well, maybe fifteen minutes, because if you heat it up too terribly quickly it sticks to the pan and gets burnt.”

My eye was now caught by the TV again.

“You’ve got twenty-four hours,” said one of the guys who had been roughing up Dan Duryea. “Twenty-four hours or you take the rap.”

“Fuck you,” said Dan Duryea.

“Look,” I said, trying to address all and sundry. “I’m sorry. But I shouldn’t have come here.”

“Why ever not?” said Nadine.

I said nothing, not because I had nothing to say but because I had too much to say.

“You poor dear,” said Cathy. “Do you have somewhere else you’re supposed to be?”

That too was a difficult question to answer.

Dan Duryea was now standing on the sidewalk on a nighttime city street. He lit a cigarette with a paper match.

“Twenty-four hours,” said his voice, although his lips didn’t move. “Twenty-four hours to a one-way trip to the electric chair.”

“D’ya know what I think Arnold is?” said Terence. “And I say this with the utmost respect.” No one said anything, and so he answered his own question. “He’s a poète maudit.”

“Is that what you are, Arnold?” said Cathy. “A poète maudit?”

“I think he is,” said Nadine. “It’s perfectly all right, you know, Arnold.”

“How romantic,” said Cathy.

“Well,” said Nadine, “poète maudit or pas poète maudit, we’re not letting you just run out of here. Into that gale out there. Look!”

She pointed across the room, to where there were three tall arched windows with drawn-back purple curtains. Rain was streaming down the window panes, like in a movie, as if stage hands were hosing them down.

“Anyway, I thought you were hungry, old boy,” said Terence. “Stay and have a bite.”

“Do stay, Arnold,” said Cathy.

“I shan’t let you leave,” said Nadine.

“Look,” I said, at last. “I hate to be rude, but I really have to go.”

“See?” said Terence. “Classic poète maudit behavior.”

“Have you always felt maudit?” said Cathy, and she ran her fingernail down the side of my face.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Maudit,” she said, and now she ran her fingernail up the side of my face. The fingernail was blood red, as were all the rest of her fingernails. “Have you always been maudit?”

“Mo dee?” I said. 

“Yes,” she said. “Maudit.”

“I don’t know what that is,” I said.

“Do you not speak French?” she said.

“Not very well, apparently,” I said. 

“You don’t know what a poète maudit is, Arnold?” said Terence.

“No,” I said. “I have no idea what any of you are talking about – but, look, it’s okay –”

Poète maudit,” said Terence. “It means cursed poet.”

“Oh,” I said.

“Would you say that’s what you are, old chap?”

“Well, maybe the cursed part,” I said.

“Oh, but you are indeed a poet!” said Nadine. “Remember, dear boy, I saw your performance at the Kettle of Fish earlier tonight.”

“His performance?” said Cathy.

“He gave a reading from his new epic poem at the Kettle,” said Nadine. “And then at one point he went off on this simply marvelous improvisation. It was ravishing!”

“Wish I’d been there,” said Cathy.

“Me, too,” said Terence. “I miss all the fun.”

“That’s because all you do is loaf around this house all day and night,” said Nadine.

“I go out,” said Terence. “Sometimes.”

“Okay,” I said, “well, if you’ll all excuse me –”

I started to get up, or to try to get up, but Nadine and Cathy each grabbed an arm and pulled me back down.

“You don’t seriously propose just to dash out into that typhoon out there, do you?” said Nadine.

“Yes,” I said.

“You’re really quite mad, aren’t you?” said Cathy. “I like that.”

“I just want to go,” I said.

“You said you would read my poetry,” said Nadine.

“Maybe some other time?” I said, shamelessly.

“I’m really rather hurt,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“You’re very cruel you know.”

“Her poetry is stupid,” Cathy whispered in my ear.

“What’s that you said, Catherine?” said Nadine.

“I said your poetry is really good!” said Cathy.

“Oh, thank you. I thought you hated it.”

“Hey, I’ve got an idea, Arnold,” said Terence. “If you don’t want bœuf bourguignon then how about some cheese and crackers, or maybe some cold sandwiches. Wouldn’t take a minute.”

“Have some cheese and crackers, Arnold,” said Cathy, and she pulled on my earlobe. “And sandwiches.”

I have to admit I was tempted, just because I was so famished. But I knew if I stayed here to eat I might not ever get out of this house.

“Look,” I said, “you’re all very nice, and I know I’m being rude, and unfair to, uh –”

Great, I couldn’t remember what-was-her-name’s name again. In a desperate attempt to avoid making this fact obvious I boldly turned to face her.

“I know I’m being unfair to you,” I said.

“You’re being more than unfair, Arnold,” she said. “You’re being cruel. Capriciously cruel.”

“He’s a poète maudit,” said Terence. “What do you expect?”

“Look,” I said, “I know it seems odd, but I just really have to go.”

I made to get up again, but once more Cathy and Nadine pulled me back down.

On the TV Dan Duryea was talking to a woman now. I think it was Lizabeth Scott. She slapped him.

“The girls don’t want to let you go, Arnold,” said Terence. “Ha ha.”

Cathy and Nadine – Nadine! that was her name – were still gripping my arms. They had pretty strong grips, but, still, they were two slender women, and I was a full-grown man – surely I could overpower them if it came to a crisis.

“Please let go of my arms,” I said. “I really have to go.”

“Tough guy,” said Lizabeth Scott on the TV. “Tough my ass!”

“Faggot,” said a gruff man’s voice, from somewhere to my left and up high. I turned and looked at the colonel again. Now he was smirking at me.

“Arnold,” said Nadine, not letting go of my arm. “Call it woman’s intuition but I can sense that something is troubling you. And I want you to know that you can confide in me."

“And in me,” said Cathy.

“Me three,” said Terence. “What’s up with all the drama, buddy?”

“Tell us,” said Cathy.

“Speak,” said Nadine.

“And enough of your lies!” said Lizabeth Scott.

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll try to keep this simple. I am from another state of reality.”

“Oh?” said Terence.

“Fascinating,” said Cathy.

“Okay,” said Nadine, dragging out the second syllable. “And what exactly is this other state of reality?”

“It’s the real world,” I said. “Or I suppose to be fair I should say ‘my world’. Anyway, I’ve been trapped in this particular universe we’re in for quite some time, and I’m trying to get back. To my own universe.”

No one said anything for a moment, not even the colonel or the TV, but then finally Terence spoke up.

“You are absolutely mad, old boy,” he said.

“Yes, you’re mad,” said Cathy, but she was smiling, and she caressed my cheek.

“Mad as a hatter,” said Nadine, and she gave me a little fake-punch on my other cheek.

“Idiot,” said that gruff man’s voice again, and once again I turned in the direction it had come from, which was the painting of the Civil War colonel. He said nothing more, but just glared down at me with all too apparent distaste.

The rain continued to come down outside. From in here it made only a faraway sound, like a tidal wave of ball bearings rolling through the streets a few blocks away, but I could see it pouring thickly down the window panes, obscuring whatever else might be out there on the street, if anything was out there. 

“Look, darling Arnold,” said Nadine. “Have a sandwich or two, some celery perhaps, or a carrot.”

She had let go of my arm, but now her hand was now on my thigh, its fingers squeezing gently, as if they were testing for ripeness.

“Some cheese,” said Terence.

“And crackers,” said Cathy. She too had let go of my other arm, but now again she ran the fingernails of her left hand along the back of my neck. “And olives.”

“Have a bite to eat,” said Nadine. “Read a page or two of my poetry, just enough that you may tell me ‘if it breathes’ if I may quote another lady poet of some renown. And then, by golly, maybe we can help you to get back to your – uh –”

“His ‘world’,” said Terence.

’Your’ world,” said Cathy. She had stopped running her nails along my neck, but now she was caressing the stubble on my chin, producing a slight damp scritching sound.

“I need your help, doll,” said Dan Duryea, to Lizabeth Scott.

“Fuck you,” said Lizabeth Scott.

“Lunatic,” said the voice of the colonel.

I looked up at him. He was silent, but still smirking at me.

But I didn’t care about him. I had a more immediate problem, which was that, thanks to the physical propinquity and the caressings of both Cathy and Nadine, I was once again despite myself possessed of an erection. Trying to appear casual, I pulled the lower right front flap of my seersucker jacket over the offending area. 

“Come on, Arnold, darling,” said Nadine, gripping my thigh muscle tightly now. “Stay.”

“Just for a while,” said Cathy, breathing into my ear.

“The party’s just starting, old boy,” said Terence.

I had two choices: to get up with a full-blown erection and leave, halfway bent over and shuffling like a cripple, or, I could wait it out and try to distract myself until the erection subsided. I chose the more cowardly course.  

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll have something to eat. And I’ll read a page or two or your poetry, N–”

I’d forgotten Nadine’s name again. How could I get out of it this time? All I could remember was that it started with an “N”, and I wasn’t entirely sure of even that much.


I improvised on that initial letter:

And,” I said, “I’ll give you my honest opinion, for what it’s worth.”

“Ha ha,” said the gruff voice.

I looked up, and now the colonel was laughing, but in a demeaning and mirthless sort of way.

“Ha ha,” he said.


(Continued here, and for who knows how long, as yet another cache of Arnold’s black-and-white copybooks has just been discovered in an Utz’s potato chips can in the tool shed to the rear of Arnold’s aunts’ sprawling Victorian guest house in Cape May, NJ.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find a possibly current listing of all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Tickets are now on sale for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Summer Solstice Bash at the Pvt. Raymond T. Osmond VFW post in Arnold’s old neighborhood of Olney, Philadelphia. $20 ticket price includes “all you can eat kielbasa ‘n kraut” and open bar. Musical entertainment to be provided by “Freddy Ayres & Ursula ‘n’ Friends” featuring very special guest “Magda” on the Hohner electric piano and vocals.)

Friday, July 24, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 448: contempt

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the stately Bleecker Street residence of his new acquaintances Nadine, Terence and Cathy, on this rainy night in August of 1957...  

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; if you are planning to move to a desert island and want something to keep you occupied through the long lonely years ahead, then click here to go back to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 68-volume memoir.)

“Arnold Schnabel’s house – like that of the father of his friend Josh – has many mansions. And Josh only knows how many rooms those mansions contain; personally I don’t even want to think about it, to be quite honest.” – Harold Bloom, in the
People Magazine Literary Supplement.

The fireplace was directly across the room from the entrance, and Nadine led me over to a sofa at an angle to the left side of it. That was vague. Let’s say the sofa was at a 75-degree angle from the fire, a big crackling fire. Over across from the sofa was the television I had heard. It was one of those massive elaborate console deals, about five feet wide and four feet high, with a radio on one side and a record player on top of it, along with a very tall and splayed aerial. A Schaefer beer commercial was on.

“Schaefer is the one beer to have,” a chorus sang, “when you’re having more than one.”

“Come sit here, Arnold,” said Nadine, and she pulled me into the space between a marble-topped coffee table and the sofa and then shoved me down in the middle of the sofa.

She kicked off her shoes and sat herself down to my left, drawing her knees up under her white skirt and facing me. The upholstery of the sofa had a sort of paisley design, with lots of reds and purples.

“Comfy?” she said.

“Sure,” I said, although I wasn’t really. I mean I was in less physical pain now that I was sitting down, and, coming in from that raging downpour outside it was soothingly dry in here and not unpleasantly warm, even with that roaring fire in the fireplace – but in the spiritual sense, if I may put it thus, I felt far from comfortable, farther still from “comfy”.

And then to make matters worse the other girl, Cathy, came and sat down to my left, facing me, sitting on the heels of her bare feet and leaning against the back of the sofa, her cigarette and drink in her right hand, her left arm draped along the rounded top of the sofa, the fingers of the hand of that arm playing with the collar of my plaid work shirt.

“Usual, Nadine?” called Terence, who was somewhere behind me.

“Usual, Terence,” said Nadine, and she reached down to the coffee table and flipped open the lid of an engraved silver or silver-like box, which was revealed to contain cigarettes. She held it out to me.

“Philip Morris, Arnold?”

I started to take one, and then stopped.

“No, thanks,” I said.

“Why ever not?” she said, but before I could answer, if I chose to, Terence called out again:

“I say, Arnold, what’s your pleasure, old boy? Whiskey, tequila, vodka, gin – absinthe?”

“Anything,” I said.

“Give him a whiskey,” said Nadine. “He likes whiskey.”

“Scotch, bourbon, rye, or Canadian, old chap?” said Terence.

“He likes cheap whiskey,” said Nadine.

The other girl, Cathy, was now touching the back of my neck lightly with her fingernails.

“How about a Canadian Club?” said Terence. “I think that’s the cheapest we’ve got, actually.”

“He’ll take that,” said Nadine.

“And does he like soda or ginger ale?” called Terence.

I think he’s a plain-soda man,” said Cathy.

“Really?” said Nadine.

“Yes,” said Cathy. She had put down her drink so that she could take a drag on her cigarette without taking the fingernails of her other hand away from my neck. She blew smoke gently in my direction. “Soda is so much more butch than faggy old ginger ale.”

“Ha ha,” said Terence. “So, soda, old bean?”

“Sure,” I said, before one of the women could answer him for me.

Meanwhile Nadine had taken a cigarette from the silver box, laid the box down, and lit her cigarette with a table lighter that was shaped like a rhinoceros horn. Come to think of it, maybe it was made out of a real rhinoceros horn, or the horn of some other great beast, how should I know?

A Philip Morris cigarette commercial came on.

“Why on earth not?” said Nadine, looking at me.

“Pardon me?” I said.

Had I blanked out again and missed something?

“Why won’t you have a cigarette?” she said.

She waved the little finger of the hand that held her cigarette in the direction of the cigarette box, which she had left open.

“Yes, I was wondering that, too,” said Cathy, still with her fingertips on my neck, but lightly, I’ll hand her that, it wasn’t as if she were digging her nails into my neck and drawing blood.

“Wondering what?” called Terence.

“Why Arnold won’t have a cigarette,” said Nadine.

“He won’t?” said Terence. “Why in heaven’s name not?”

“That’s what we were wondering,” said Cathy.

“I think I’d die if I couldn’t smoke,” said Terence from somewhere back there, making little drink-making sounds.

“What’s the point of living if you can’t smoke?” said Cathy.

“Yes,” said Nadine. “What would be the point?”

“Okay, I’ll have one,” I said.

“Well, don’t let us force you,” said Cathy, giving me a little slap in the back of my head.

“Heaven forfend,” called Terence. “Perhaps the poor chap has a medical condition.”

“Oh no,” said Nadine. “That isn’t so, is it, Arnold, dear? You don’t have some terrible disease, do you?”

“Does insanity count?” I said.

“Ha ha,” said Nadine. “No, seriously, why don’t you want a cigarette? You don’t have consumption, do you?”

“What is consumption exactly anyway?” said Cathy.

“T.B.,” said Nadine. “I think.”

“Arnold has T.B.?” said Terence. 
He came around from behind us with a fancy metal tray that had drinks on it.

“That’s what we’re trying to determine,” said Nadine.

Terence laid the tray down on the coffee table. Or perhaps I should say cocktail table. Anyway, he laid the tray down, and there were four tall highball glasses on it, the kind that have little swirly painted designs on them. Each drink had a swizzle stick in it, but they weren’t the cheap plastic kind, these were metal ones, maybe even silver. They were platinum for all I knew, but they weren’t plastic.

“T.B. is a bitch,” said Terence. “But you know they can do wonders, nowadays, Arnold. Antibiotics and such. Sanitariums in the Alps. Here, C.C. and soda.”

He picked a drink up from the tray and handed it to me.

“Thank you,” I said. I stirred the drink with the solid silver swizzle stick.

Pas de quoi,” he said, and then, “Help yourselves, sisters. Double absinthe and soda for you, Nadine. Another Armagnac and soda for you, Cathy.”

Cathy finished the drink she had been holding in one gulp, put it down on the tray and picked up a brown drink. Nadine picked up a pale green drink. Terence grabbed the last drink, a light-brown one, and came around and sat on the sofa on the other side of Cathy. He had been wearing rope sandals, put he slipped them off and settled back against the sofa arm, his feet drawn up on the couch. He was still smoking a cigarette, maybe a different one. 

“What should we drink to?” he said.

“Let’s drink to our new friend Arnold,” said Cathy.

“To Arnold it is,” said Nadine. “To his continued success as a poet, and to his happiness not just as an artist, but as a man – a strong, virile, and may I say somewhat raffishly handsome man.”

“And, I should add,” said Terence, “to his very good health. He won’t be able to enjoy either his success in his chosen field or his happiness as a manly chap if he doesn’t also enjoy good health.”

“You know,” said Cathy, stirring her drink with her swizzle stick, “if it’s a question of money, Arnold, perhaps we can help you. Set you up with the medical care you need, that sort of thing.”

“A sojourn in the Alps at a nice sanitarium is something I wouldn’t turn my nose up at myself,” said Terence. He was stirring his drink with his swizzle stick.

“Promise me you’ll at least  think about it,” said Nadine to me, touching my shoulder. “Think about letting us help you. At least go see our family doctor.”

“I don’t have T.B.,” I said.

“What’s that?” said Terence.

“He says he doesn’t have T.B. after all,” said Cathy.

“You shouldn’t joke about such things, Arnold,” said Nadine.

“I never said I had T.B.,” I said.

“But you implied it.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” I said.

“It’s okay you know, if you do have T.B.,” said Nadine.

“Yes, we don’t mind,” said Cathy.

“I shouldn’t mind,” said Terence, “unless it’s contagious of course.”

“Listen,” I said, to all and sundry, turning my head awkwardly from right to left, so that I could include all three of these crazy people in what I was about to say. “I don’t have T.B. or any other disease. I just didn’t want a cigarette because I’ve quit smoking –”

“Yes, but why –”

“Yeah, for God’s sake why –”

“Why on earth –”

“Because I was tired of waking up coughing,” I said. “And also I was afraid of getting cancer. But, really, I just don’t care anymore, so if you want me to, I’ll have a cigarette.”

“Nobody wants you to have a cigarette if you don’t really want one,” said Nadine.

“Far be it from us,” said Cathy.

“Couldn’t care less,” said Terence. “More for me, ha ha.”

“By the way, can we drink our toast now before our drinks lose their fizz?” said Cathy.

“Oh, my goodness, of course!” said Terence.

“Lift your glass, Arnold,” said Nadine, and she stirred her drink, in a very thorough-seeming way, clouding up the green liquid in the glass.

I took the swizzle stick out of my own glass and put it on the tray. I didn’t want to poke my eye out.

And now we return to our Tree Frog Beer Award Movie,” said an announcer on the TV. “Dan Duryea and Lizabeth Scott, in Street of Darkness –”

I didn’t remember ever seeing that one, but I was a big fan of Dan Duryea. Or, rather, as big a fan of him as I was of any actor, which, come to think of it, was not saying much.

“Arnold,” said Nadine. “Stop looking at the television set and pay attention.”

“Oh, sorry.”

She stuck out her tongue and licked her swizzle stick before continuing. She dropped the swizzle stick onto the the drinks tray, then raised her glass.

“Here’s to Arnold,” she said. “And whether he has T.B. or not – a moot point so it seems, at least for the nonce – here’s to his very, very good health.”

“Hear, hear,” said Terence.

“Cheers, big ears,” said Cathy.

I raised the glass, and drank. I drank half the glass. It went down very easily, truth be told, even though I could tell that Terence had made the drink very strong.

“I don’t care what Big Frank said,”
Dan Duryea was saying. “I didn’t kill Billingsly, and I don’t know who did.”

Suddenly I remembered how hungry I was. I remembered it because drinking half that highball on an empty stomach (empty of food, anyway – there was a fair amount of whiskey and beer in there) was suddenly making my gorge rise.

“Why are you suddenly turning deathly pale?” said Nadine.

“Oh, God, he is ill,” said Terence.

“You poor man,” said Cathy, caressing my now sweaty neck.

“Food,” I said, or tried to say, but I believe it came out as an unintelligible retching sound.

“What did he say?” said Terence.

I put my drink down on the tray, and leaned forward, trying to will myself not to throw up.

“I need –”

“What, darling?” said Nadine.

“Need,” I said.

“Tell us, Arnold,” said Cathy. “Tell us what you need.”

“Maybe a drop of paregoric would help,” said Terence.

“Do you want some paregoric, Arnold?” said Nadine.

“No!” I said, blurted. “Need – something –”

“Oh, dear,” said Nadine.

“What is it?” said Terence. “Should I get the bottle of PG?”

“Yes, go get it, Terence,” said Cathy. “Poor chap.”

“Won’t be a mo,” said Terence, and he took a drink of his drink, one for the road I suppose, in a way suggestive of him getting up off the sofa in the next minute at least.

“No!” I said, croaked, because I was still feeling quite nauseous.

“No what, dear?” said Nadine.

“Don’t want paregoric!”
I managed to blurt.

“Don’t want paregoric?” said Terence.

Why, you poor damned fool?” said Cathy. “It will make you feel ever so much better.”

“Just need –”

“What, darling,” said Nadine, and suddenly I was distracted by the large painting on the wall above the mantlepiece, above that roaring fire. It was a painting of a vigorous-looking middle-aged man in a Civil War-era colonel's uniform, complete with a sword in its scabbard. He had a big white moustache and side whiskers, and he seemed to be staring right at me, with contempt.

“Darling,” said Nadine, “what do you –”

“Somethin’ a eat!”
I blurted, almost shouted, in one tortured breath.

“What?” she said.

“What did he say?” said Terence.

“’Something with a beat’?” said Cathy. 

“No!” I gasped. “Some-thing – to – eat! Food!”

“Oh, dear,” said Nadine.

“What’s that?” said Terence. “He wants food?”

“Yes!” I yelled.

“You’re hungry?” said Cathy.

“You know, he told me that,” said Nadine. “Poor fellow is starving.”

“Well, let’s get him some food, then,” said Cathy.

“I say, Arnold,” said Terence, “what would you like to eat, old man?”

“Anything,” I managed to say.

I was panting, and once again, for the thousandth time that day, I was drenched with sweat, but at least the nausea had abated, for the time being. 

“How about some leftover bœuf bourguignon?” Terence said.

“Great,” I said.

I didn’t really know what bœuf bourguignon was, but I also didn’t care. 

I looked up at the Civil War colonel again, above the fireplace and the fire. He was still staring at me in contempt. I quickly looked away, toward the TV, where some guys were slapping Dan Duryea around.
“Talk, wiseguy, talk!” one of the guys said.

“Fuck you,” Dan Duryea said, which seemed odd to me.

(Continued here, and straight on into worlds yet unknown.)

(Painting by James Avati. Please look to the right-hand column of this page to find a strictly up-to-date listing of all other published chapters of
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Friday, July 17, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 447: highballs

We last saw our hero Arnold Schnabel in the passenger seat of a red Jaguar XK120 being driven at high speed through the rainy streets of lower Manhattan by his new acquaintance “Miss Nadine”...

(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; if you have finally finished Samuel Richardson’s
Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady, and are casting about for something even longer to read, then go here to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 77-volume masterwork.)

“The attentive and persistent reader of Railroad Train to Heaven will discover perhaps sooner than later that Arnold Schnabel’s towering and massive
chef-d'œuvre is so much more than what one of my students termed, ‘a mind fuck’.” – Harold Bloom, in the Soldier of Fortune Literary Supplement.

After she had dragged on the reefer four or five times I drew it away from her lips, but she took her right hand off the wheel and waggled her finger in a way that seemed to say, “More,” and so I put the reefer to her lips again.

All this time she continued to speed the car through that crashing torrent.

When she had taken a few more drags I pulled the reefer away, in a tentative fashion, and this time she allowed me to do so.

I glanced at the speedometer again, and wished I hadn’t, because it now read 75 mph. I still had the palm of my right hand pressed firmly against the polished wood of the dashboard, even though I knew how useless this pathetic maneuver was. No, any second now I would be flying headfirst through that windscreen, or maybe I would stay in the front seat but the entire front part of the car would rush back against me like a wave of steel and wood and shattered glass. Either way, the best that I could hope for would be an instantaneous death. 

I decided that since I was going to die anyway, I might as well smoke some more of the reefer, and so I did, but only taking three or four drags, not ten or a dozen of them as this madwoman had done.

I was holding in the smoke, wondering if the breath that I exhaled it with would be my last when suddenly, without putting her foot on the brake, the madwoman yanked the steering wheel hard to the right, and I was thrown against the passenger door, the cats in the bag wailed, but louder and more shrilly this time, and I coughed up smoke, but I was alive.

Don’t ask me why, but after I straightened up I drew upon the reefer again, but just as I did so the crazy woman yanked the wheel to the right once more and this time the centrifugal force (if that’s what it’s called; I am after all a former railroad brakeman who didn’t get his high school diploma until he was twenty-two and in the army, I’m lucky I can even spell a word like centrifugal, let alone know what it means) or whatever it’s called sent me sprawling down into the footspace of the car, hitting my already bruised skull on the dashboard as I went down, and I just had time to think, “Well, this is it, I’m going to die at last, as senselessly as I have mostly lived, so goodbye to this world or any other world but the next and presumably final world this time.”

But obviously I didn’t die.  

Instead suddenly the madwoman slammed her foot on the brake, and I think this may have been the first time her foot touched the brake since we had gotten in the car, the cats in the gunny sack squealed again louder than ever, and the car came to a stop, causing me to strike my head against the dashboard a second time, but on a different spot on my skull.

I turned and looked up at her as she calmly did something with the gear shift, switched off the wipers and the headlights, cut the ignition and removed the key.

Only now did she exhale the reefer smoke from her lungs, a great cloud which again almost entirely filled up the interior of the car.

“We’re here,” she said. “Sorry if I drove too fast for you. Are you quite all right?”

“I, um,” I said.

“I hope you didn’t drop the reefer.”

Amazingly, or maybe not, I still had the reefer between my thumb and finger. It had gone out, but I still had it. I held it up so that she could see it.

“Splendid. Put it in your pocket and we’ll save it for later.”

I obeyed her, as it seemed it was my fate to do, and put the reefer into my shirt pocket.

“Good boy,” she said. “Now get up out of there and be a darling and hand me my bag and my umbrella.”

I did as she asked me to, and I waited as she unfastened the little flap on the umbrella.

“Now,” she said, “press the button to lock your door and then scooch out my side and I’ll hold the umbrella so you won’t get drenched.”

I continued to follow her instructions as she got out of the car and opened her umbrella. She held it over me as I closed the car door. The rain was falling just as hard as before we got in the car, but in the light of a streetlamp I could see that we had parked in front of a big old-fashioned three-story brownstone house. It had tall arched windows, and a dozen steps led up to a wide covered entrance with a big double door. Gas lamps burned in black metal fixtures on either side of the doors.

I looked up and down the street, but because of the rain everything was shadowy, blurry, and vague. It all looked like a street in a dream.

“If you’re through gawking,” she said. “Let’s get out of this monsoon.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, because I had just had a horrible thought.

“Yes? What is it this time?”

“Where are we?” I said, yelled, in a sort of low-grade panic. I was too tired for a high-grade panic. “I mean, are we, where are we, are we –“

“We’re on Bleecker Street, silly. Corner of Fenno Place.”

“Oh,” I said. 

“And this quaint old pile is my familial manse,” she said.

“Ah,” I said. “Okay. That’s good.”

She was standing quite close to me, holding the umbrella over both our heads.

“Why are you being so weird?” she said.

“Am I being weird?”

“Yes. Very. Why.”

“No reason.”

“There must be a reason. Tell me.”

“I don’t want to.” 
“Tell me, damn you.”

“Well, it’s just that –”

I couldn’t say it. I was used to sounding stupid, but this was stupid even by my standards.

“Spit it out,” she said.

“It’s just that I thought that, maybe, we were, that we were–”

“Do take your time.”

“I thought maybe we were – no longer in the, um –”

“No longer in the what, darling?”

“The world of the living?”

“Pardon me?”

“I thought maybe we had crashed and, um, passed into the, uh, next world, or, um, one of the next worlds, or –”

“You thought we were dead?”

“Yes. Maybe.”

“Well, sonny Jim, we’re not dead. I hope you’re not terribly disappointed.”

I sighed, standing there with her under her umbrella in the rain. Her breasts were touching my ribcage again, and I felt a stirring in my allegedly procreative organ, which made me feel better, not the beginnings of an erection per se, but this manifestation of my corporeal state.

“You silly man,” she said. “But you’re a poet. And poets are perforce sensitive chaps, are they not?”

“I guess so,” I said.

“Now let’s stop this absurd badinage and go inside, we’ll simply catch our death out here.”

Taking my arm in hers she led me at a trot up the steps and into the entranceway, which had lions and snakes carved into it, maybe some other animals, I couldn’t tell you for sure, maybe next time I’ll take notes, if there ever is a next time.

She handed me the umbrella and I closed it up and re-buttoned it while she unlocked one of those massive double doors with matching bronze door knockers on them, the knockers molded in the shapes of  cats' or more likely lions' or tigers' paws.

She got the door open and we went through into a foyer with lots of marble and dark wood and engraved mirrors and a tiled floor with an old rubber runner on it. An overhead light was on, but it threw only a dim yellow light.

The crazy woman closed the door and suddenly the sound of all that crashing rain was like a distant faint thrumming, like natives beating war drums deep in a jungle.

“Just shove the umbrella into that priceless but cracked Ming vase there, ha ha,” she said, and I obeyed. Of course I had and have no idea if the vase was a priceless Ming vase, but I can attest that it was cracked, and with a half-dozen or so other umbrellas and canes in it.

She took off her safari hat, which had gotten wet, and put it on a hatrack on the wall, on which hung six or seven other hats of various kinds, then she took her leather bag off her shoulder and dropped it onto a small table that was covered with yellowed lace.

She turned and looked at me. The ends of her hair had gotten wet, and little points of it adhered to her jaw and her neck like leeches.

“Oh, I smell a fire!” she said suddenly, and now I could smell fire too. “Don’t you just adore a fire on a rainy night, even if it is August?”

“As long as it’s a fire in a fireplace,” I said.

“Ha ha, you really are too much, Porter, or should I call you Arnold. That does seem to be the name your alleged buddies back there preferred to call you.” She put her hands on the lapels of my seersucker jacket and made smoothing and straightening motions upon it. “Which do you prefer, tough guy?”

“I really don’t care,” I said.

“Then I think I’ll call you Arnold, and do you know why?”

“No,” I said, in all honesty.

Now she began playing with my tie, tightening and then untightening the knot.

“Because,” she said, “if your friends call you Arnold then I want to call you Arnold too. Because I hope to be your friend.”

“Okay,” I said. It was getting hard to concentrate because now that she was standing close to me again my procreative member was following its own mad will and growing by the second.

“Do you think it’s possible for a man and a woman to be friends?” she said.

“I suppose so,” I said.  

 "A young attractive woman and  a young attractive man?" 
"Um –"

She tugged on my tie.

“Yes," she said. "‘Arnold’. I shall call you ‘Arnold’.”

“Okay,” I said.

“And what will you call me, Arnold?”

I couldn’t just come out and say that I only thought of her as “the madwoman”, or, rather, I could have, but it seemed less trouble not to, and so, after quickly searching the archives of my memory, I said, taking a slightly wild guess, because I was far from sure, “Maybelline?”

She tightened the knot of my tie, rather too tightly.

“Oh, come now, you scamp! Say my name.”


“Stop it, you jackanapes.”

“Heh heh,” I said. Maybe if I pretended I was joking she wouldn’t get upset.

“Now say my name,” she said.


She yanked on my tie.

“You do know my name, do you not?”

“Sure I do,” I said.

“Say it then.”


"Stop being an idiot and say my name.”

If I kept stalling maybe it would come to me.

“You mean your first name, right?” I said, trying to sound serious. “Because I don’t think you ever did tell me your last name –”

“Yes,” she said. “My first name.”

“Ah,” I said. Rather annoyingly I now had an almost full erection. “So you just want me to – say it?”


“Your actual first name?”

“What other name would I be talking about?”

“Well, I thought maybe you might want another, a special name, just for us. Because we’re friends.”

“That’s sweet, Arnold. But I am quite happy with my given Christian name.”


“So say it.”

“Well, uh –”

“You don’t remember it, do you?”

She tightened the knot of my tie, tighter.

“Of course I do,” I said.

"Then say it.”

She tightened the knot even further.

“It’s –” I had no idea. The thought of violence against a woman appalled me, but I realized I would probably have to resort to it, either that or consent to be strangled in this foyer. “It’s –”

“Nadine,” said a man’s voice.

“Nadine,” I said, and, thank God, Josh, the prince of darkness, whomever, she loosened the knot of my tie.

“Oh. Hello, Terence,” she said.

I turned and saw the man who had just spoken. He was a young tall pale fellow with shiny dark hair who looked remarkably like “Nadine”, and I determined to remember her name this time, Nadine, Nadine, Nadine.

“Who’s your friend?" said the young man. 

He wore a smoking jacket, and he was, in fact, smoking, a cigarette. And drinking also, he had a highball glass in his hand. 

“It’s Porter Walker, the poet,” said Nadine, Nadine, Nadine. After one last tug she finally let go of my tie. “But his friends call him Arnold.”

“Hello, ‘Arnold’,” said the young fellow.

“Arnold, this is Terence,” said Nadine. “He’s my brother.”

“Hi, Terence,” I said. I took a step to one side, so that Nadine (Nadine) Nadine’s body would block my erection from the young man’s view, although I was pretty sure he had noticed it already.

“Would you like a drink, Arnold?” said this Terence. “Or are you and Nadine just going to shall we say get right to it.”

“Oh, Terence, don’t be a bore,” said Nadine, there, I’ll remember it now, I hope.

“I won’t be a bore if you won’t be a whore,” said Terence. “Ha ha. Don’t mind us, Arnold. We always carry on this way. So. Highball, old man?”

“Yes, Terence,” said Nadine. “Arnold will have a highball and I’ll have one as well.”

“Follow me, Arnold,” said Terence, and he turned around and started walking away.

“What a frightful beast,” said Nadine, taking my arm and leading me on, out of the foyer, following Terence across a great shadowy room filled with furniture from the 1880s. I was limping, because my knees had never stopped aching, and now I had an erection to deal with as well, but Nadine dragged me along, seemingly regardless both of my pain and the bulge in my jeans. “Terence is horrible I know,” she said. “But he’s my blood. A tainted corrupt blood, but it’s the only blood we have. I can tell he likes you.”

Terence turned his head slightly as he walked along and said, “I can hear every word you’re saying!”

He was heading toward some other dim room to the right, with a fancy archway over the entrance to it, and with faded thick purple drapes tied up on either side. I could hear voices from the room, but they sounded like television voices. Suddenly a young woman appeared from behind the drapes. She had dark blonde hair, and she was wearing what looked like silk or silky black pajamas. She was barefoot, and like Terence she was holding both a highball glass and a cigarette.

“Well, well, well,” said this dark blonde girl. She looked like Nadine also, but she somehow seemed more boyish than Terence. “Look what the cat’s dragging in.”

“Keep your hands off him, bitch,” said Terence. “Nadine saw him first. And I saw him second.”

“I assure you I have no interest in Nadine’s rough trade,” said the new girl.

“How dare you,” said Nadine.

“I’m only calling a spade a spade,” said the blondish girl. “So get off your high horse.”

We were now all standing awkwardly between the big room and the other room with the TV sounds coming from it. Or, come to think of it, I was the only one standing awkwardly, the other three all seemed relaxed enough.

“Hello, rough fellow,” said the new girl to me. The room behind her had more of the 1880s furniture and an enormous fireplace with a fire in it. I couldn’t see the television set, but I could see its bluish flicker on the furniture.

“Hello,” I said.

“The manners of my siblings,” said the new girl. “My name is Catherine but everyone calls me Cathy. What is yours? I’ll bet it’s something manly. Like Spike. Or Buck. Or F-”

“His name is Porter Walker,” said Nadine. “But he likes to be called Arnold, don’t ask why. And he’s not rough trade, he’s a poet.”

“Oh,” said the other one, Cathy, another name I had to try to remember. “A poet. That explains a lot.”

“It certainly does,” said Nadine. “Now let’s get some drinks.”

“Oh, goody,” said this Cathy girl. “Drinks.”

“Leave the drinks to me,” said Terence, sounding a little bored, and he went on into this other room, which was smaller than the first room but still bigger than the whole ground floor of the house I grew up in. 

Nadine had never let go of my arm, and now she pulled me along again, following Terence into the room. Luckily my erection had disappeared, for the time being.

The Cathy person stood to one side and let us pass, and as I passed she touched my backside.

I said nothing. 

What could I say? 

I wanted a highball.

(Continued here,  and onward, come hell or high water and everything in between.)

(Kindly scroll down the right-hand side of this page to find what may be a reasonably current listing of all officially-published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Tickets are now available for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Summer Solstice Dinner at Bob’s Bowery Bar™ at Bleecker and the Bowery, featuring unlimited quantities of Bob’s famous “basement-brewed” house bock and “wurst ‘n’ kraut’ steam table. Musical entertainment provided by “Freddy Ayres and Ursula ‘n’ ‘Friends’”, with special guest “Magda” on vocals and the Hohner electric piano.)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 446: impending

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel in the noisy and crowded confines of Bob’s Bowery Bar, with his new acquaintance “Nadine”, on this rainy night in August of 1957...  

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; curious newcomers may click here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 76-volume memoir.)

“In the world of Arnold Schnabel the reality of time is as expandable and as multifarious as the many worlds that make up his world.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Redbook Literary Supplement.

I put the empty mug down. 

I didn’t want to go with this woman. I didn’t want to read her poetry. I never wanted to read anyone’s poetry, including my own. And also I knew that she was probably insane. I know that the reader may well think, “Here’s a pot calling the kettle black,” but my own insanity is already more than I can handle, and if I learned anything at all in the loony bin it was that I have no desire whatever to associate with other lunatics.

Nevertheless I allowed her to take my arm in hers and to start dragging me across that crowded barroom in the direction of the entrance. 

She was saying something or other as she pulled me through that mob of dancing and flailing drunks, but I was paying no attention, thinking only of the pain pulsing from both my knees with each step, of my hunger, of the fact that I was letting myself be shanghaied by a madwoman and that I was doing nothing about it while realizing that I would continue to do nothing about it because (as the attentive reader will have already noticed) I find it very difficult ever to say no to a woman. No, I would let myself be dragged to “her place”, whatever that was, and I would find myself farther and farther away from my supposed goal of returning to my own world.

Nevertheless, as the madwoman pulled me through those thrashing and stumbling bodies, I still found myself casting a hopeful longing glance or two toward the booth where Josh and my other acquaintances sat, and then by chance my eyes met Horace P. Sternwall’s and at once he began waving his arm energetically.

“Arnie!” he yelled, loud enough to be heard over all the other yelling and laughing people and the blaring jukebox music, which I now recall was Rosemary Clooney singing “Mambo Italiano”. “Arnie baby!” he yelled again, still waving his hand, which had a cigar in it. “Over here!”

I stopped, which caused this madwoman Nadine to stop also. We were in the middle of the floor, with dancers dancing the mambo all around us.

“Now what?” she said.

“It’s my friend,” I yelled, because, again. unlike Nadine I needed to holler to be heard in this place. I pointed towards Horace. “He’s calling me.”

And sure enough Horace continued to call my name and wave beckoningly. Josh now was also turned around in the seat opposite Horace, and smiling broadly in my direction. Ben was peering over the back of the booth, wide-eyed. Mr. Philpot seemed impassive, and of course I couldn’t see Ferdinand from this distance, which was about four yards away.

“Arnie! C’mon over, man!” yelled Horace.

“He wants me to come over,” I dared to say to Nadine.

“I heard him. I’m not deaf,” she said.

“Is it okay if I go over?”

“It’s a free country,” she said. “But listen.” Still holding onto my arm with hers, she swung her body around so that she was facing me, in fact pressed up against me, and again I could feel her breasts against my ribs. Her breasts felt firm but oddly soft, except for a hardness at the center of each. I realized to my horror that she must not have been wearing a brassière, and then with further horror I realized that I was becoming possessed of the nascent stages of an erection. “Don’t think you’re getting out of coming to my place,” she said.

“I won’t,” I said.

“But just to read my poetry.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I shouldn’t want you to think I’m the sort of girl who picks up men in bars and takes them home just to have savage and passionate sex with them.”

“I won’t,” I said.

“Even if you are a rather handsome and enigmatic fellow who just happens to be the hot new poet around town.”

“Um,” I said.

“All right then,” she said. Her face was perfectly unsmiling, just as it had been ever since she had first made her presence known to me. “We shall go over and meet these so-called ‘friends’ of yours.”

Keeping my arm in hers, she turned and began to pull me towards the booth where my so-called friends were.

“Ow,” I said.

“Oh, Christ, now what is it,” she said.

“Just my knees,” I said. “I have to walk slowly, if at all.”

“You know,” she said, turning to face me again, her breasts pressed against me again, “if you simply would not insist on constantly getting into bar brawls all over town your knees wouldn’t be hurting you right now.”

“That’s true,” I said. I could feel my organ of procreation stiffening further.

“Don’t destroy yourself, she said.

“Okay,” I said.

She had let go of my arm, but now she was touching my face with her fingers. Her fingernails were long and painted bright red, and she ran the fingernails along my cheek.

“God will destroy you soon enough,” she said.

“That’s a good point,” I said.

I tried to think about death, hoping that this would make my penis deflate, but my penis had its own mind and grew even more engorged each millisecond. It was pressing quite blatantly against the madwoman’s belly, but, far from recoiling in disgust, she pressed her body even closer to mine.

“Promise me you’ll stop behaving like some spangled hussar with a death wish, Porter,” she said, still running her fingernails along my cheek. “Promise me!”

“I’ll try,” I said.

“No, don’t try," she said. "Promise.”

“Okay, I promise,” I said, just to get her off the subject.

“Hey, mac,” she suddenly said, not to me, but to a young marine who had been dancing the samba and who had bumped into her. “Watch yourself before you kill somebody.”

“Oh om zo zorry,” he said.

“What’s the problem?” said the old woman the marine had been dancing with.

“I bum inda vis lady ear,” said the marine, and I realized that he was very drunk, doing his utmost to squeeze the words from his mouth in a coherent fashion, and failing.

“You stay away from my marine, Miss Nadine!” yelled the other woman. She was very small, and old, maybe seventy or even older, and she wore what looked like a Revolutionary War hat, black in color. It looked like she was wearing a potato sack, except it had a faded floral pattern of the sort you don’t see on potato sacks. She assumed a boxer’s stance, balling up her tiny little fists. “I’ll kick your lily-white ass!”

“You insolent old bitch,” said Nadine. “Get away from me before I thrash you with my bag and then poke you in your decrepit face with my umbrella.”

“Young hussy.”

“Old whore.”

“Ay nall, lays,” said the marine, who looked young and innocent, “wudja zay, lez be en! Lez be en!” 

“What?” said Nadine. “What did you just say?”

“Lez be en!” he said again.

“How dare you!” she said. Freeing her arm from mine, she slapped the marine in the face, he staggered back, the little old woman grabbed his arm, but the drunken marine was a big young fellow and they both fell backward to the floor.

’Lesbian’,” said Nadine. “The nerve.”

“I don’t think he was saying ‘lesbian’,” I said.

“I distinctly heard him.”

“He was trying to say, “Let’s be friends.”

“Oh, was he?”

“I think so,” I said.

“Well, that’s what he gets for speaking so indistinctly.”

The old woman and the young marine were sitting on the floor next to each other. The old woman, with her hat awry, had her thin old arms around the young fellow, and they were kissing, as other drunk people continued to dance the samba all around them.

“How vile,” said Nadine. “Hard to believe Marianne is a world-famous poetess. Let this be a lesson to you, Porter.”

And putting her arm in mine again she began again to pull me towards the booth. 

My erection had subsided during the preceding incident, so I had at least one small thing to be thankful for. One smaller thing.

At last we did reach the booth where Josh and the others sat with their whiskey and their beer and their burning tobacco, and I will be honest to my nonexistent reader at this juncture and state that I’ve thought about trying to describe what transpired over the next five or ten minutes (that is to say, I’ve thought about it for the space of five seconds), but it would be impossible for me to do so with any pretense of complete historical accuracy, because the fact is that, before I made it even halfway through making a half-hearted round of introductions, it seemed that everyone else present began talking more or less at once, and pretty soon as I so often do I mentally bowed out, thinking about my pains, about food, about wanting to find someplace to sleep or to pass out, maybe even to wake up and find out this had all been a dream, but more probably to wake up and find myself trapped in yet another dream.

“So okay, then, buddy!” said Josh at one point, and I realized he was talking to me, and either it was my imagination or his black eye and his other facial bruises had almost completely disappeared in the short time since I had last seen him.

“Um, are you sure?” I said, I have no idea why, just to say something I suppose.

“Sure I’m sure! Go!”, he said, smiling, and he clapped me on the arm. And he had seemed so eager to talk to me just a short time earlier. But then, as I kept reminding myself, he was still the son of God, and what was time to him? “Go on!” he said, and yes, another thing that had happened since last we had talked, he was definitely drunker. “Get out of here!”

Horace winked lasciviously at me; Ben nodded his head approvingly, and, I thought, maybe enviously; Mr. Philpot smirked hideously, Ferdinand said nothing, busy as he was lapping up what looked like whiskey in a shot glass; and then the madwoman was yanking on my arm again, and soon we were out the door and in the bar’s entranceway, looking out at the unabated downpour. She let go of my arm long enough to open her umbrella and then we were walking arm-in-arm under it through the rain, and after half a minute she stopped at a parked car, it was another Jaguar, a coupé, pink, an XK120 if I wasn’t mistaken. She asked me to hold her umbrella while she scrabbled in her bag for a minute, and finally she brought out a large ring of keys, opened the passenger door and told me to get in, which I did, and she slammed the door shut. The leather seats were bright red, the same color as the madwoman’s lipstick and fingernails. The doors and the flooring were a darker red. Then the driver’s door opened, the madwoman got in with a burst of rain, and she shut the door. She shoved the furled wet umbrella over to my side of the footspace, selected a key from the ring, put the key into the ignition, and started the motor.

She turned on the windshield wipers and the headlights, punched in the knob of the automatic lighter on the dashboard, and then she turned to me. 

“Would you care to get high?”

“In what sense?” I said.

She reached into her bag, and after only a little more than a minute she came up with a hand-rolled cigarette.

“Muggles,” she said. “Tea. Weed. Would you like some.” 

“No thanks,” I said.

“You said you were in pain. This will make you feel better.”

“Okay,” I said. 

Right on cue the knob of the lighter popped out. She put the reefer between her lips, pulled the lighter out, lit the reefer. took four or five very long and deep drags, then passed it to me.

I took a drag, and held it in. What did I have to lose?

She put the lighter back into its socket, dropped her leather bag on my feet, put the car into gear, and only then exhaled, almost filling the interior of the car with smoke.

“We’ll be home in just a jiffy,” she said.

She pressed her foot on the gas pedal and pulled the car out into the rainy street.

I exhaled also, coughing, and it dawned on me that this woman was not only insane, but drunk, and now she was also under the influence of marijuana.

She shifted gear again and pressed the gas pedal all the way to the floor.

She came to a corner and turned a hard right, through a red light, the tires of the car shrieking like a bag of cats being thrown into a river.

I waited for the crash, but it didn’t come.

We sped on through the rain, I didn’t know to where.

“Porter,” she said.

“Yes?” I said.

My right arm was outstretched, the heel of my hand pressing against the highly polished wooden dashboard, as if this expedient would save me when we crashed.

“How about passing that reefer, man?”

The reefer was between the thumb and forefinger of my left hand, which was a frozen claw of fear. I held this claw out to her.

“Hold it between my lips, darling. I shan’t bite your hand.”

I did as she bade me, holding the reefer between her red lips as she drew deeply upon it, all the while steering the car through the crashing downpour at what a glance at the dashboard told me was sixty miles an hour. I didn’t mind holding the reefer to her lips for her. It was something to take my mind off my impending doom.

(Continued here, and possibly not even Josh’s father knows for how long.)

(Please look down the right-hand column of this page to find a possibly accurate listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Tickets are now available for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Walking Tour of “Arnold Schnabel’s Cape May”, culminating in a Crab ‘n’ Beer Blast at the VFW post on Congress Avenue, musical entertainment provided by “Freddy Ayres & Ursula and their Swingin’ Sounds of Summer”, featuring “Magda” on the Hohner electric piano and vocals.)

Friday, July 3, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 445: Miss Nadine

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, on this hot rainy night in August of 1957, amid the smoke and the noise of that celebrated Bohemian caravansary Bob’s Bowery Bar, where he has met yet another new acquaintance...

(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; go here to return to the long-ago and only dimly-remembered beginnings of this Gold View Award™-winning 68-volume autobiography.)

“My favorite vacation pastime is to sit in my favorite rocker on the porch of our summer home in Cape May and read
Railroad Train to Heaven all afternoon. Later I like to take a post-prandial evening walk, through those same leafy streets that Arnold Schnabel walked through, and then perhaps to stop into the Pilot House or the Ugly Mug and order a mug of draft beer. And when the bartender asks me what kind, I say what Arnold would have said: ‘The cheap kind.’” – Harold Bloom, in the Cape May Star & Wave Literary Supplement.

“You heard him, Bob,” said the woman to the bartender. “Double Carstairs and a cheap-beer back.”

The big bartender went away without a word. I suppose I should just say ‘the bartender went away’, since he was the only bartender in evidence, and I’ve already mentioned that he was big. It wasn’t as if there were some small bartender there who might have gone away.

“What are you thinking about?” said the woman to me.

“I was wondering how I should describe this, if I write it down later.”

“How would you describe it?”

“I would say the bartender went away.”

“You’re not one for fancy words, are you?”

“No,” I said, and there must have been something about the way I said that one word, a trailing off, a hint of something else, because she said:

“No 'what'?”

“No,” I said, “I’m not one for fancy words. But then I’m not one for unfancy words either.”

She stared at me from under her jungle hat, and she took another drag on her cigarette. It was another awkward moment. One might think I had grown used to awkward moments after a lifetime consisting of nearly nothing else, but this was not the case.

The bartender reappeared. With smooth efficiency that belied his impassive massiveness he put a large and thick glass mug of something yellow and just slightly foamy in front of me, the handle facing me, and then next to it he laid down a thick beveled old-fashioned glass with about four fingers of something brown in it.

“Double Carstairs and a Tree Frog golden lager,” he said. “Tree Frog’s the cheapest beer we’ve got.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Out of here, Bob,” said the woman, and she tapped the pile of bills and change in front of her.

The bartender picked up three quarters and went away again.

So that Zaramajevski guy hadn’t been kidding, this really was a cheap bar. 

“Go ahead,” said the woman to me. “Drink. You look like you need it.”

I picked up the glass with the brown liquid in it, and I drank about a third of it. It was whiskey all right, or something that tasted like whiskey, which was good enough for me.

“Feel better?” she said.

“Yes,” I said, or gasped. “Thank you.”

I picked up the mug and took a drink. It was beer all right, or else something very much like beer. Like most beer it was neither especially good nor notably bad. But it was beer, which was a good thing, especially for me in my present state of physical pain, of hunger, and confusion.

The woman had what looked like a martini in front of her, mostly full. I was surprised they even had martinis in this sort of place. But I wasn’t surprised enough to mention anything about it. Anyway, she picked up the drink, took a sip, then laid it down again. I noticed that there was lipstick on the glass’s rim. I assumed and, yes, I hoped, that it was her lipstick.

Next to her glass was a cigarette case, made of gold or something the color of gold, with a swirly letter N on it made out of little sparkling stones. Next to the case stood a thin lighter that matched the cigarette case in color and design, complete with the swirly sparkling letter N.

The woman turned and looked at me again.

“My name is Nadine,” she said.

“Hello,” I said. “I’m Arnold.”

“Arnold? No, you’re not. You’re Porter Walker.”

“Oh, right,” I said. “I forgot.”

“You forgot your own name?”

“Um,” I said.

“Or are you perhaps attempting to go incognito.”

“Yes,” I said. Why not lie? As I kept reminding myself, these people were all fictional characters. As was I. Since this whole universe was a lie, why shouldn’t I lie?

She swiveled on her barstool so that she faced me more directly. Her legs were crossed, under a loose ivory-colored skirt, and the tip of her shoe touched my leg.

“I saw your performance earlier tonight,” she said.

“Pardon me?” I said.

I was distracted by the sharp toe of her shoe, pressing against my shinbone just below the painful area of my right knee.

“Your poetry reading,” she said. “At the Kettle of Fish.”

Suddenly I remembered what she was talking about. Had it really been that same night? Because it felt like five years ago.

“Oh, right,” I said.

“I found it quite – what’s the word? ‘Moving’?”

She looked at me as if she expected an answer.

“Well –” I said. I suppose I should mention here yet again that this place was extremely noisy, and so I more or less had to shout everything I said. But strangely this woman didn’t have to shout to be heard. It was as if her words went straight into my ear through some invisible tunnel. “Uh, um –” I shouted.

“But ‘moving’ is so cliché, isn’t it,” she said, after probably realizing I wasn’t going to say anything intelligent. “Like ‘stunning’," she said. "Or ‘shattering’. Or ‘brilliant’.”

I didn’t care about any of what she was saying. I decided I’d better just finish off my whiskey and beer as quickly as possible, and then make my excuses and find Josh.

I took another drink of the whiskey. The trouble with straight whiskey is that it’s hard for me to bolt it down all at once. I suppose I’m not a very accomplished alcoholic in that regard. But I managed another good swallow of what was in the glass, leaving maybe one last gulp in it.

“But, nevertheless” she went on, “I was moved by your reading. And in fact I found it both stunning and brilliant. If not quite completely shattering.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“I too am a poet,” she said.

Now I knew I needed to make a getaway, and as quick as humanly possible.

I picked up the old-fashioned glass and bolted down the rest of the whiskey.

“I would like you to read some of my poetry,” she said.

What could I say? I had already accepted a double shot of Carstairs and a beer from her. I was trapped. And so I had to fall back on my old friend mendaciousness.

“I’d like to read it sometime,” I said.

“Oh good. I’m glad you said that.”

“No problem,” I said. 

“Would you like to come up to my place and read some of my work?”

“Well,” I said, “uh, sure. I’ll have to take a look at my schedule, but –”

“I mean now.”

“Now?” I said.

“Yes. Why. Are you all that busy? Because frankly you look like you’re out on a bender. Black eye. Bruises. Clothes dirty and wet. Have you been brawling?”

“Not exactly,” I said, and I took a good gulp of the beer. 

“Please don’t lie to me,” she said. “I’m a fellow poet, even if I am a woman. How did you get that black eye if you weren’t brawling.”

“A girl hit me with her purse,” I said.

“Of course,” she said. “There. Telling the truth isn’t all that painful, is it?”

I really had no answer to this, if it really was anything more than a rhetorical question, so I took another swallow of beer. One more gulp and the mug would be empty, and then I could go.

“And,” she said, “did you deserve to be struck in the eye with a girl’s purse?”

She looked straight at me as if she really did want an answer, and so I answered her, as truthfully as I could.

“I’m not sure,” I said.

“You know what I think, Porter –” she said, and then, “I may call you Porter, mayn’t I?”

“Sure,” I said.

“And you must call me Nadine.”

“Okay,” I said.

“’Okay, Nadine’.”

“Okay, Nadine,” I said.

“I think you are a naughty boy, Porter.”

I didn’t say anything to this. I picked up the beer mug. Just one more big gulp left, and I was about to take that gulp and make a run for it, but she said:

“That’s it. Finish your beer. And we’ll go.”

I put the mug down without drinking from it.

“Listen,” I said. “Nadine?”

“I like it when you say my name. Say it again.”



“Listen, Nadine,” I said, and then quickly before she could interrupt me, “I can’t really go right now. To read your poems.”

“Why not?”

“I have a friend here,” I said. 

“A friend.”

“Yes,” I said. “He’s here somewhere.”

“Then why were you with those two sad sacks Zaramajevski and St. Cloud?”

“They – they – they just – they just –”

“Waylaid you?”

“Yes,” I said. “I was just using the men’s room when the colored man, what’s his name –”

“St. Cloud.”

“Yes, him, he waylaid me, and then the little guy –”


“Yes,” I said. “when we left the men’s room he waylaid me also, and –”

“A couple of jokers,” she said. “You’re lucky I rescued you. Come on, finish your beer and we’ll go. I have plenty to drink at home.”

“But my friend –”

“So he really exists, this ‘friend’?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Where is he?”

I turned around, rising up on my tiptoes and I looked around that crowded barroom.

“Oh, there he is,” I said.

I pointed to a booth to the left of the entrance. Through the dancing and milling bodies I could see flashes of Josh sitting in one of the outside seats, and across from him was Horace P. Sternwall and, next to Horace, Mr. Philpot. Looming above the back of the booth and next to Josh was Big Ben Blagwell’s head with its yachting cap. Presumably Ferdinand was there also, lapping up beer and whiskey to beat the band.

“The chap in the light blue suit and the trilby?” she said, twisted around on her barstool, and in such a way that I could disconcertingly see a section of her breast peeking between the cloth of her shirt and the gauzy material of her scarf. “Drunken looking fellow?"

“Yes,” I said. “That’s him.”

“What about those other fellas. Are they your ‘friends’ also?”

“Well, uh, I guess so – I mean –”

“Quite a jolly-looking little crew I must say. I’m sure they’ll miss you terribly.”

She then turned and lifted up her martini, which was still half-full, and drained it in two quick gulps. She put the empty glass down next to her pile of money, and pushed the glass and the money a few inches farther away from her, in a dismissive sort of way. Then she reached under the rounded edge of the outside of the bar and brought up a large pale-leather bag which must have been hanging on a hook. She opened the flap of the bag and dropped her cigarette case and lighter into it. She closed the flap of the bag with a sharp thwapping sound and then draped the strap of the bag over her shoulder. She reached under the edge of the bar again and this time came up with a furled umbrella, which matched the color of her shirt and her skirt. Then she slipped off the stool and stood facing me. She was about six inches shorter than me but somehow she seemed as if she could beat me up if she really wanted to. She took one last drag on her cigarette and dropped it to the floor. Then she tapped my chest with the ferrule of her umbrella.

“Let’s go,” she said.

“But, miss –”

“Nadine. How many times must I tell you. Call me Nadine, you bad man.”

“Nadine,” I said.


“My friend wanted to have a, uh, private talk with me.”

“The blue-suit chap.”

“Yes,” I said. “His name is Josh, you see, and he wanted to have a talk about something, but I was hungry, so we thought we would go here where I could get something to eat, and we could, you know –”


“Yeah,” I said.

“About something.”


“While you ate something.”

“Yes,” I said.

“It all seems so terribly vague, doesn’t it?”

“Well, um, uh, I don’t know,” I said, vaguely.

“And what about those other chaps.”

“Other chaps.”

“The chaps this ‘friend’ of yours is sitting carousing with.”

“Oh, them. Well, we sort of caught a ride with them, because the one old fellow, Mr. Philpot, he has a car, a Jaguar, and –”

“That little old man with the derby drives a Jag? What kind?”

“A Mark VII I think, a red one. So, anyway, uh –”

“Why don’t you just say you don’t want to read my poetry.”

“Oh, I do,” I lied. “But you see, Josh –”

“Your friend.”

“Yeah,” I said. “He really seemed anxious to talk about, uh –”


“Yes. And –”

“Most men find me attractive.”

“Oh, you are,” I said. “But it’s just, you know –”

“Is it that girl,” she said.

“Is what what girl?” I said, and I suddenly realized that I was sweating, the sweat pouring down my face and dripping to the sawdust-covered floor like warm sticky rain. But for some reason this woman Nadine was not sweating.

“Is it that girl who gave you the black eye with her purse, in which she must carry a brick I must say.”

“No, it’s not her,” I said.

“Then some other girl.”

“Yes?” I said, in desperation.

She put the tip of her umbrella against my tie, right below the knot.

“Listen, buster,” she said. “You listen up and listen tight. I am not asking you to make the beast with two backs with me. If I may be at least as crude as the bawdy bard. All I am asking is that you read a page or two of my poetry.”

“But my friend –”

“Your ‘friend’.”

She drew the umbrella back, and I hoped she wasn’t going to hit me with it.

“Yes,” I said. I lifted my hand and gently moved the umbrella to the side. “You see, my friend really did want to talk to me. It seemed to be something – important.”


“Yes,” I said.

“To him.”


“Something about a girl, perhaps?”

“Um, uh, I’m not sure, uh –”



“Look at your friend. Go on. Take a good look at him.”

I turned and looked across that crowded barroom to where Josh sat. 

“Do you see him?” said this Nadine woman.

“Yes,” I said.

Josh was laughing, smoking, drinking. Having a good time, which was more than I could say for myself.

“Does he look as if he’s just dying to have a tête-à-tête with you?”

I sighed, for the fifty-thousandth time that day.

“No,” I said.

“He looks as if he’s having quite a jolly time with your other pals, doesn’t he?”

“Yes,” I admitted.

She moved closer to me, close enough that her breasts touched my rib cage. She tilted her head back so that she could stare up into my eyes.

“I live just up Bleecker,” she said. “We can be there in a trice. You’ll read my poetry and then we’ll come back here. Your friends won’t even know you’ve been gone.”

“But – Nadine?”

“Yes? Now what is it?”

“The thing is, or, the other thing is, I really need to eat. I’m starving –”

“You really are behaving as if you do not want to read my poetry.”

“But I really am hungry,” I said, consciously trying not to whine, but failing I think. “Also my knees are really killing me because of a couple of accidents I had tonight, and I just want to sit down –”

“No one likes a complainer, Porter.”

“But –”

“Look, you can sit down on my very comfortable Persian divan when we get to my place, and I’m sure we can raid the old icebox and fix you a very lovely sandwich or two. Now quit fucking around if you’ll pardon my French, finish that beer if you want it and let’s go.”

I sighed, then I picked up the mug, and drank, and as I did so I gazed across the bar at Josh, flickering in and out of view as the drunken people milled and danced, and I said a prayer that he would help me, but he just kept right on laughing and talking and drinking, and he didn't seem to hear my prayer.

(Continued here, we’re only just getting started.)

(Kindly scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find an often-current listing of links to all other electrically-published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. A few tickets are still available for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual 4th of July party at the Raymond T. Osmond VFW Post at Chew and Lawrence. Open bar and “sausage ‘n’ beef” buffet, with musical entertainment provided by “Freddy Ayres & Ursula”, with special guest “Magda” on the Hohner electric piano and vocals.)