Monday, August 31, 2015

"The Knuckleheads"

“Nothing makes an idiot happier than to argue with another idiot.”

The Knuckleheads, by Horace P. Sternwall (an Uptown Books “paperback original, 1953; republished as The Imbeciles, by “Hilaire P. St. Wallace”, "a searing new novel, never published before", the Dagenham Press {UK}, 1955. Both editions one printing only).

Sunday, August 30, 2015

"A Day in the Life of a Crank"

“It seems I have spent my entire life not caring about things that other people seem to care a great deal about. But I don’t care about that.”

A Day in the Life of a Crank, by Horace P. Sternwall (a Pinnacle Books “paperback original”, 1951; republished as Came the Grey Dawn, by “Harry Piers Steevens", Sadstone Books {UK}, 1953; currently out of print).

Saturday, August 29, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 453: feast

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel as he sits on a sofa with the lovely Nadine here in the stately old Belleforest residence in Greenwich Village, on this fateful stormy night in August of 1957…

(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding episode; potential obsessive-completists may go here to return to the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 59-volume memoir.)

“’Arnold Schnabel!’ How trippingly the name rolls off my tongue whenever anyone asks me to name the all-time preëminent American creator of Literature (with a capital L to be sure)!” – Harold Bloom, from the “Introduction” to his Arnold Schnabel: An Illustrated Biography for Younger Readers (the Olney Community College Press).

“Dinner is served!” called a man’s voice.

I turned and saw Terence entering the room, carrying a tray loaded with what looked like plates of food, at least I hoped it was food. Cathy came in with him, and she was carrying a six-pack of beer cans in each hand. Thanks to Nadine’s shenanigans I was once again suffering a partial erection, but fortunately I still had her big book of poetry in my hands, so I closed it and laid it over my lap to hide the offending bulge in my jeans.

“Oh,” she said. “About time. I’m sure Arnold is simply ravenous.”

“Say, what’s with all the ciggy butts and ashes on the Persian?” said Terence as he got closer to the sofa. He had a cigarette in his mouth, and he talked around it.

“Arnold had an accident,” said Nadine.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ll clean it up.”

“Nonsense,” said Cathy.

She came over and put the six-packs on the coffee table, then plumped herself onto the sofa to my right, drawing her legs up under her. She too had a cigarette in her lips, and she took it out, gently blowing smoke in my face.

“Yeah, don’t worry about it, old boy,” said Terence. “There’s liable to be a lot more on that rug before the night is over, heh heh.”

“But –” I said, not that I really wanted to clean up the mess, especially with my painful knees, but I felt at least a ‘but’ was warranted.

“But nothing,” said Terence. “Here’s what we made for you, Arnold.”

He laid the tray down on the coffee table in front of me, next to the tray with the now-empty highball glasses. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and pointed it at a sandwich cut diagonally in two.

“First we’ve got liverwurst and onion, with brown mustard, on Jewish rye. Is that okay?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Might want to think twice about it though if you’re planning to osculate with anyone tonight, ha ha.”

“Ha ha,” said Cathy. “’Osculate.’You kill me Terence. Open some beers.”

She reached down and picked up a church-key can opener from the tray and held it out to Terence.

“Again,” he said, “I have to do everything.”

“I hate opening beer cans,” said Cathy, and she waggled the church key until Terence made a clicking noise with his tongue and took it.

“It’s not like you need an engineering degree to open a damned can of beer,” he said. 

“Oh, stop complaining and just crack open some beers,” said Nadine. “What else have you got there on the tray?”

“This one here is ham and cheddar,” said Terence, pointing with the cigarette again, “on plain ordinary white bread, but with Belgian endive and relish and mayo. We got just a leetle creative with that one I’m afraid.”

“Beer,” said Cathy, holding her hand out and making grasping movements with her fingers.

“God, give me a second!” said Terence.

He stuck the cigarette back in his mouth and pulled a can of beer, a Rheingold, out of one of the cardboard carriers.

“I hope you like Rheingold, Arnold,” he said. “It's 'the dry beer'.”

He expertly cracked two triangular openings in the can without spilling a drop and, ignoring Cathy’s outstretched hand he held the can out to me.

“Rheingold’s fine,” I said, taking the beer, but keeping the book on my lap, awkwardly trying to hide the erection which still persisted, probably because Cathy was playing with my ear and Nadine’s hand had returned to my thigh. “Thank you, Terence.”

Me,” said Nadine, holding out her hand, the one that wasn’t caressing my thigh, and wiggling her fingers in the direction of the beer cans.

“Me too!” said Cathy, still holding out her hand, while she pulled on my earlobe with two fingers of her other hand.

“This,” said Terence, opening another can of beer, but nodding at the tray of food, “these are cheese and crackers. You’ve got your Gorgonzola there, and that smelly lump is Limburger – so, again, approach with caution dear boy just in case you and Nadine are planning to, you know –”

“To make the beast with two backs,” said Cathy.

“Oh, stop it you two,” said Nadine, and even though Terence was holding the opened can of beer toward Cathy, Nadine reached over and took it for herself. “We’re not planning to make any sort of beast, are we, Arnold? Two backs or otherwise.”

“Um,” I said, “uh, so, Terence, what’s that other cheese there?”

“The little cubes? They’re Swiss,” said Terence. “Can’t you tell with the holes?”

“Oh, right,” I said, because I preferred to seem unobservant or stupid rather than continue talking about beasts with two backs.

“The crackers are Uneeda Biscuits,” he said. “And just to make sure you get all your vitamins we’ve got fresh carrot slices and celery there, and some gherkins.”

He cracked open another can and handed it to Cathy.

“Thank you, Terence,” she said. “Tell him what that other delicious delicacy is.”

She pointed at a pyramid of brown rectangular-shaped things on a plate on the tray.

“Hash brownies,” said Terence, and he opened another can. “Baked them myself. Ever have one, Arnold?” 

"Oh, sure,” I said, because all that I had registered was the word “brownies”.

“Arnold’s no ‘square’,” said Nadine.

“Never said he was, dear,” said Terence, and he sat himself down with his own can of beer at the other end of the sofa again, kicking his sandals off and drawing his legs up. “Eat, Arnold,” he said. “Drink.”

Terence and Cathy hadn't bothered to bring glasses for the beer, so I took a good long gulp of the beer right out of the can, and then I began to eat, using my left hand, as my right hand was still preoccupied with holding Nadine's book over my erection. Quickly and steadily I devoured first the liverwurst sandwich, and then the ham and cheese.

The three siblings talked among themselves while I ate, about what I have no idea, I wasn’t listening, I was much too intent on stuffing my face.

After finishing the sandwiches I took a brief break, but just to empty what was left in the can of beer in two long gulps.

“Boy, you are hungry, buddy!” said Terence.

“How long has it been since you’ve eaten, Arnold?” said Cathy.

How long had it been? It felt like four-and-a-half years, and in a sense it had been, but all I said was:

“Not since breakfast.

“Oh you poor thing,” said Cathy. “Eat some more, darling.”

“And help yourself to some more beer, old chap,” said Terence.

Keeping that big book over my persistent erection I pulled a can out of the carrier and punched two holes in it with the church key. I gulped down half the can and then without further prompting went to work on the  cheese and Uneeda Biscuits, then the gherkins and carrots and celery.

Again the two sisters and the brother chatted among themselves, and again they might just as well have been speaking Chinese as far as I was concerned. In short order I finished every last morsel of the cheese and crackers, the carrots and celery and pickles, then I gulped the rest of the can of beer down and belched, without shame.

“Have another beer, Arnold,” said Terence. “Don’t stand on ceremony.”

I didn’t. I opened another can, and after taking another good long gulp I went to work on the brownies.

I had just picked up my third brownie and was about to shove it in my mouth when Terence said:

“You might want to take it easy with the brownies, Arnold. They’re pretty potent.”

“Oh, Arnold can handle it,” said Nadine.

“I’ll bet he can,” said Cathy.

“Well, okay, then,” said Terence, “but just save us a brownie each, buddy.”

I want to admit here that I actually felt disappointed that he said that. I wanted all of those brownies.

As I ate that third brownie – making a half-hearted effort to slow down and savor it – Nadine, Cathy and Terence all reached over took one each for themselves. 

I swallowed the brownie and licked my lips, staring at the two brownies that remained on the plate.

“Arnold, you’re looking like you really want those last two,” said Terence.

“Go on and eat them, Arnold,” said Cathy.

“Oh, dear, do you think he should?” said Terence. “They truly are awfully strong.”

Strong? They hadn’t tasted strong to me. In fact I had thought them just right, if maybe just a little more chewy than the kind my mother made.

“Go ahead and eat them, darling,” said Nadine, caressing my thigh.

So I went ahead and ate them, and as I did Nadine and Cathy and Terence continued to talk among themselves, and again I paid no attention, concentrating as I was on those last two brownies. When I finished the last one I gulped down the last of my third can of beer and then sat back against the sofa, sighing perhaps the deepest sigh I had sighed that day, which was saying a lot.

Well, that was really disgraceful,” said the colonel in the painting. “Jesus fucking Christ, man, have you no class at all?”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I was just very hungry.”

“What are you apologizing for?” said Nadine.

“Oh,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“Now you’re sorry for being sorry?”

“Oh, stop harassing the poor fellow,” said Cathy, and she pulled on my earlobe again.

“I’m sorry, Arnold, darling,” said Nadine, caressing my thigh.

“Help yourself to a cigarette, Arnold,” said Terence, “oh but that’s right you don’t smoke.”

“I’ll tell you what he smokes,” said Nadine, and she reached into my work shirt pocket and brought out the partially-smoked reefer which I had put in there and forgotten about.

“Oh, good, light it up,” said Cathy.

“Good idea,” said Terence. “These brownies take too long.”

“What?” I said, my brain suddenly teetering on the edge of not being imbecilic.

“I said the brownies take too long,” he said.

“Too long?” I said, weakly.

“To get you high, old chap. They’re strong brownies but they take almost a half-hour to really kick in. Of course you had five, so maybe that will make ‘em kick in sooner.”

“One thing’s for sure,” said Cathy, “when they kick in you’ll know it.”

“Ha ha,” said Nadine. “I’m sure Arnold can handle it. He’s a poet after all!”

“Excuse me,” I said, to one and all. “But what’s so special about those brownies?”

“I told you,” said Terence. “They’re hash brownies.”

“Like – hash browns?” I said. They hadn’t tasted at all like hash browns.

“No, silly,” said Cathy. “Hashish!”

“Hashish,” I said. I recalled reading about that in some of the cheap novels I liked to read, the ones where guys got caught in a deadly web of hashish addiction.

Oh, well, short of trying to make myself throw up, and I couldn’t face doing that, I would just have to deal with it. 

Hadn’t I already taken LSD once that day? Hadn’t I already smoked reefer on more than one occasion? Hadn’t I drunk bock beer infused with the nectar of the gods? Hadn’t I sloshed down quantities of supposedly normal beer as well as various other fermented and distilled beverages? Hadn’t I swilled bourbon laced with laudanum? 

Yes, I had consumed all of the above, and now five hashish brownies were joining the party.

Nadine had lit the reefer with the rhinoceros-horn lighter, and now she put the reefer between my lips. I drew in the smoke, I don’t know why, and I drew deeply, filling my lungs.

This whole episode had been a real low point in my self control.

Really incredible,” said the colonel. “Really fucking incredible.”
He didn’t know the half of it. 
I exhaled the smoke, and passed the reefer to Cathy, who proceeded to draw on it with what looked like great vigor. 
I have to say that deep drag of reefer helped to relax me. Of course the meal I had just wolfed down had helped in that regard as well, not to mention the three cans of Rheingold I had just drunk in quick succession.

I suddenly realized that my erection had gone away again for the time being, despite the fact that Nadine still had her hand on my thigh, despite the fact that Cathy was running her fingers up and down the back of my neck.

This would be a good time to escape. 

It would be rude to escape of course, but if I was still here when those hashish brownies kicked in I might not be physically and mentally able to leave tonight, if ever.

Sure, it was still raining hard outside, I could hear it and see it streaming down the windows across the room, but I couldn’t worry about that.

Without thinking about it anymore, I laid the book of poems on the coffee table and then pushed myself to my feet.

“I just remembered,” I said. “I have to go.”

“What are you talking about?” said Nadine, and she pulled on my arm.

“I, uh –” 

I tried to think of some excuse. I drew a blank.

“Sit back down, you big silly,” said Cathy, and she pulled on my other arm.

“See?” said Terence. Cathy had passed him the reefer, and he exhaled a great cloud of smoke. “Poète maudit, all the way.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I know it’s impolite, but I have to go.”

“But why for heaven’s sake?” said Nadine.

“It has to do with me coming from this other state of reality,” I said, again resorting to one of my occasional forays into honesty. “If I stay here I’m afraid I’ll never escape this universe and make it back to my own.”

“Oh, I get it,” said Terence. “He really is crazy.”

“He’s not crazy,” said Cathy. “He’s just eccentric.”

“He’s crazy and eccentric,” said Nadine. “And I find him utterly fascinating.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I still have to go,” I said.

Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, asshole,” said the colonel in the painting.

(Continued here, and onward, until that last neatly filled-out marble composition book has been transcribed, and there are hundreds more to go.)

(Please scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a soi-disant current listing of links to all other legally-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™, every word of which has been vetted, proofread, and approved by the scholars of the Arnold Schnabel Society of Philadelphia.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

"The Rube"

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that it’s always some hick from a small town who tries the hardest to become a big-city sophisticate. James (formerly ‘Jim-boy’) Holloway had tried as hard as he knew how, but even now, after fifteen years in New York, he still had to make a conscious effort lest his carefully-cultivated ‘witty’ repartee should be betrayed by a slip back into the folksy twang and hayseed locutions of his native Stubbsville, Indiana.”

The Rube, by Horace P. Sternwall (Argyle Books “paperback original”, 1952; one printing of 1,200 copies; never republished).

Friday, August 21, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 452: thanks, God

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel sitting on a sofa in the stately Belleforest townhouse on Bleecker Street, on this rainy night in August of 1957…

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; unfortunate victims of an obsessive reading disorder should click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 78-volume autobiography.)

“Join me, dear reader, on a very special journey into a world so much more interesting than this pathetic humdrum one we inhabit in our so-called real lives: the world of Arnold Schnabel!” – Harold Bloom, from his
An Introduction to Arnold Schnabel's Railroad Train to Heaven: A Beginner’s Guide (the Olney Community College Press).

I realized there was no escaping now, and so I opened the book. It wasn’t a printed book, but a sort of fancy notebook or journal, with thick, slightly nubby unlined pages of an off-white color – a far cry from the cheap marble composition books that I use to write my own poetry and prose, in one of which I am writing these very words, using my usual implement, a common ordinary cheap Bic pen.

There was no sort of preamble or introduction to Nadine’s book of poetry, she just got right to it, with a poem titled “Thanks a Lot, God”. Her handwriting was very neat, and I suppose you would have to call it feminine, with little flourishes here and there, but with nice big letters, and easy to read. She had apparently used a fountain pen, or maybe even a quill for all I knew, with black ink.

The poem began this way:

Thanks a lot, big guy, for all you’ve given me:
a big house, an amusing family, and lots of money.
Thanks a lot too for that Jag parked outside;
I always wanted my own nice ride.
Thanks for giving me beauty, and a healthy body,
and thanks for the brains you gave me too, big buddy.

“Oh,” said Nadine. “You’re reading it already!” She had finished picking up the glasses and ashtrays and lighter from the rug, and now she seated herself to my left again on the sofa, facing me with her legs folded under her. I couldn’t help but notice that she had left all the cigarette butts and ashes on the rug, also the little chunks of ice from the drinks. Well, that wasn’t my problem. “What do you think?” she said.

“Well,” I said, “I’ve only just started with the first one.”

’Thanks a lot, God’. One of my admittedly rare religious poems. What do you think?”

“Pretty good,” I lied, blatantly, but then I would want someone to lie to me if they read my own bad poems, so I was only following the golden rule.

“I put only my very best poems in this book,” she said.

“I see.”

“Someday I’ll put them out in a real book. So that the masses can read them, not just people I invite to the house.”

“That’s a good idea,” I said.

She reached down to the cigarette box on the coffee table, the one thing on it that I hadn’t knocked to the floor, flicked the lid open, took out a cigarette and lit it with the rhinoceros-horn lighter.

“Go on, read some more!” she said.

I did as she asked, and read these lines: 
Thanks for the talent you have given me, God,
for without it this poem would sound very odd.
Oh, and thanks also for absinthe and cigarettes,
and for Radio City and for the Rockettes!

“Do you still like it?” she said.

“Yes,” I said, without shame.

“But does it breathe?”

“Yes,” I said. “I would say so.” 

“Oh, honestly?”

“Sure,” I said.

Look, dear reader, dear nonexistent reader, if I am coming across as a bit of a duplicitous swine here, in my own defense I would just like to say that I only wanted to get this poetry-reading business over with, maybe wolf down some food, and then get out of there. Also I was still in pain from my various injuries, albeit in less pain than I had been in just a few minutes before, I was famished, I was tired, and I was trapped in a strange universe. And now Nadine had her hand on my thigh again. I knew myself well enough to know what that would lead to: another embarrassing erection.

“Nadine,” I said, “may I ask you a delicate question?”

“Oh, please do!” she said.

“I wonder if you could take your hand away from my thigh,” I said.

“That’s not a question,” she said. And, far from removing her hand, she moved it farther up, and inward.

“May I ask you then to remove your hand from my thigh?” I said.

The hand came closer to my inguinal area.

“Yes, darling,” she said, “of course you may ask! We are friends, aren’t we?”

“Um, yes,” I said.

“So ask! Ask anything!”

“Okay,” I said. “Would you mind taking your hand away from my thigh then?”

“Before I answer that, Arnold,” she said, and she gave my inner upper thigh a squeeze as she said it, “may I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Are you really sure?”

“Pretty sure,” I said.

“Fair enough then, old boy. So shall I go ahead and ask my question?”

“Yes, please,” I said.

“Ha ha, oh, Christ,” said the colonel, up in his painting.

“Why did you look up just then?” said Nadine.

“Oh, nothing,” I said.

“Nothing is never nothing, dear boy.” 

“I was just – looking at the painting up there again.”

“Oh, that hideous painting. You really seem quite fascinated by it. I should be insulted that you seem to be less interested in looking at me than at that old goat up there.”

“Hey, now wait a minute!” said the colonel.

I decided to try to ignore him, as best I could. 

“Anyway,” I said – I tried to remember her name, but I drew a blank again. The colonel must have seen what my problem was, because he spoke up again:

“Nadine,” he said, in a sort of stage whisper.

I silently and quickly thanked him and went on.

“So, Nadine,” I said, “you said you had a question?”

“Oh, I did, yes,” she said. “And may I ask my question now? Unless you’d rather stare at my great-grandfather’s portrait?” 

“Ha ha,” said the colonel, and I couldn’t stop myself from looking up at him again, at his contemptuously grinning face.

“Well?” said Nadine.

“I’m sorry, what was the question?” I asked.

“My question,” she said, “was may I now ask my question, unless you would rather stare at Great-Grandfather Colonel Belleforest.”

“No, yes, please, no, yes, go ahead,” I said, ignoring the colonel, who was mirthlessly laughing again.

My question to you,” said Nadine, “is may I ask you why you asked me to remove my hand from your thigh?”

I had almost forgotten that her hand was still on my thigh, but it was, and closer than ever to the danger zone. I took a moment to think before replying. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

“I only asked,” I said, “because it makes me hard to concentrate on your poetry with your hand there.”

“On your thigh,” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Then how about here.”

And now she went whole hog and just put her hand on my procreative organ. It’s true, there was a layer of denim material and my boxer shorts over it, but still this gesture was more than disconcerting.

“Um,” I said.

“Does that feel nice? I can feel it growing. Like some small precious animal.”

“Uh,” I said.

“I’ve often wondered what it must be like to be a man. To have this appendage. To feel it pulse and grow. It must be ever so much fun.”

“Well, um,” I said.

“It does feel nice when I do this, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said. “But.”

“But what, darling?”

“I don’t think I can read your poems if you do that,” I said.

“Oh, don’t be a big baby. Of course you can.”

“But your brother and sister will be back any minute.”

“But doesn’t that make it all the more exciting?”

I hated to get physical, but, holding the big book in my right hand, I used my left hand to pull her hand away.

“Ooh,” she said. “So strong. So forceful.”

“Please, Nadine,” I said. “I thought you wanted me to read your poems.”

“Oh, but I do.”

“But I – it’s just – you know –”

“Hey, wait a minute,” she said.

“Okay,” I said.

“You’re not queer, are you?”

I sighed.

“No,” I said.

“Then what’s the big problem?”

“I just told you,” I said. “It’s hard for me to concentrate on your poems if –”

“Ha ha, oh my fucking God,” said the colonel.

“I do wish you’d stop that,” said Nadine.

“Stop what?” I said.

“Looking at my great-grandfather,” she said. “Just what is so all-fired fascinating to you about that painting?”

I gave up. Why not just tell her the truth? What did I have to lose?

“He keeps talking to me,” I said.

“Who does?” she said.

“Your what is it, great-grandfather,” I said.

“My great-grandfather is talking to you.”

“Yes,” I said.

“And what does he say to you?’

“He laughs at me. He says – rude things to me.”

“I’ve heard he was a very hard man.”

“Well, anyway,” I said.

“So you know what this means,” said Nadine.

“That I’m crazy?”

“Nonsense,” she said. “It means you have special powers. You are one of the elect.”

I looked up at the colonel, but he said nothing.

“Did he say anything just then?” said Nadine.

“No,” I said.

“Maybe later he will,” she said. “Or perhaps he feels awkward because we’re talking about him.” She turned to the painting, to the colonel. “Are we making you feel awkward, Great-Grandfather?”

He said nothing, although I thought I detected a smirk.

She turned back to me.

“Did he say anything?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

“He must feel awkward then.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“No one likes to be talked about when you’re sitting right there.”

“That’s true,” I said.

“Look at him up there,” she said.

I looked at him. He was definitely smirking now.

“I wonder what he thinks of us, of Terence, Cathy and me, the last of the Belleforests. The vaunted Belleforests of Bleecker Street. Did he say anything about us?”

Of course he had, but I didn’t want to be cruel, so I said:


“To think that all his hard work, all the hard work of the poor wretches who worked in his factories, all his relentless accumulation of riches, to think that it has all come down to me, and of course to Terence and Cathy too, the three of us in this old house. What does it all mean, Arnold? A man’s life? All his accomplishments? What is it all in aid of?”

“I have no idea,” I said.

“Ask him.”

“You want me to ask him?” I said.

“Yes. He talks to you. Ask him what it all means.”

“What it all means,” I said.

“Yes,” she said. “Life. Ask him what life means.”

I sighed.

I looked at the painting.

“What does it all mean?” I asked him.

“Don’t mean shit,” he said, without a moment’s hesitation.

“Well?” said Nadine. “Did he answer?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Please tell me! Tell me what he said.”

“He said that the meaning of life is to be a good person.”

“He did?”

“Yes,” I lied.

“What wisdom! I should not have expected that from him.”

She turned and looked up at the colonel.

“Thank you,” she said to the painting. “Thank you, Great-Grandfather.”

He said nothing.

(Continued here, and onward, because we have gone well past the point of no return.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a purportedly current listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Subscribe to Arnold’s adventures on your Kindle™ today and never miss a single episode!)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 451: Duryea

Our hero Arnold Schnabel, trapped in a fictional universe and trying to get home, has been shanghaied by the exotic Nadine Belleforest and taken to her stately Greenwich Village townhouse, ostensibly to read her poetry. There he meets her siblings Cathy and Terence, who had been watching a Dan Duryea movie on TV, and highballs are served. Cathy and Terence go to the kitchen to prepare a snack for Arnold, and Nadine goes upstairs to get her poems. Arnold is left alone with Dan Duryea and with a portrait above the mantle of Colonel Lucretius Punctilius Belleforest, who, unlike most people in paintings, has the ability to talk. Arnold decides he’s had enough, and tries to escape, but he trips over the coffee table. All of this happens on a rainy night in August of 1957...

(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; the unfaint of heart may go here to return to the very first chapter of this
Gold View Award™-winning 77-volume memoir.)

“I have lost count of the number of worlds, universes and dimensions Arnold Schnabel visits just in the published portions of his staggering
chef-d'œuvre, but, au fond, are they not all part of one great all-encompassing universe – the crazy mixed-up world of Arnold Schnabel?” – Harold Bloom, in the Man’s Life Literary Supplement.

I tried to roll with the fall. This was something an old-timer had taught me back when I was a kid, when I first got my job as a trainee assistant-brakeman. “If you fall off the goddam train,” he had told me, “and you will, everybody falls off sometime, just try to roll with it.”

I said okay, because what did I know? Nothing. It seemed to make sense, trying to roll with the fall, rather than just falling splat on the ground face-first, or, maybe even worse, back-first. Fortunately I never did take a fall from a train. It was only after I left the railroad that I began falling down quite frequently.

And here’s the thing about falling down: the more you do it, the more likely you are to keep falling down unless you take some time to recover and to let your injuries heal. I was learning that it was all too easy to keep falling down when each time you did you damaged your knees even further. Maybe if I ever did make it back to my world it would stand me in good stead to try to stay off my feet for a month or so. But first I had to get back to my world.

Meanwhile, back in the world I was in, I fell over that sturdy marble-topped coffee table, headfirst as I think I said, hitting both my damaged knees yet again on the table as I tumbled over it, and I twisted as I fell, putting out my left forearm to break my fall, and rolling over the left side of my body while at the same time swinging my legs up and away from the table so they wouldn’t hit it again, so that I wound up on my back, my feet toward the fireplace (but fortunately for me not in the fire), and me staring up at the colonel in the painting, what was his name, who was guffawing down at me.

“Ha ha!” he said, “You clumsy oaf! Ha ha!”

It could have been worse, as my falls go. One thing that helped a lot was the fact that there was a thick rug on the floor, some sort of Persian rug. I wouldn’t have known it was a Persian rug, but the colonel pointed it out to me.

“Way to mess up that Persian rug, by the way,” he said, not laughing now.

He was referring to the highball glasses on the tray that I had knocked over. Amazingly none of the glasses had broken – as I say, it was a thick rug – but still the ice cubes and whatever liquor was still in the glasses had of course spilled out onto the rug, along with a a lot of cigarette butts and ashes from a couple of heavy glass ashtrays that I had also knocked over.

“Oh,” I said to him. This was the first time I had spoken aloud to him. In fact, to the best of my memory, this was the first time I had ever spoken to a man in a painting.

’Oh’?” he said. “Let me tell you something, pal, ‘oh’ is not going to get those stains out of that rug. Do you know how fucking old that rug is?”

I was in pain. To tell the truth I was in great pain, mostly from my knees, but also from a half-dozen other places on my body and my head and face, and now I had a brand new pain in my left elbow, caused by me trying to break my fall just now.

“I said do you know how old that rug is,” he said, louder this time, and I’ll admit it, I lost my temper. I was lying there in pain, having just taken a hearty fall, and all this man could think about was his rug. “Answer me when I speak to you, punk! I said do you know –”

“No,” I said, daring to interrupt him. “I have no idea how old this rug is. How would I have any idea how old it is? Do I look like a rug expert?”

“Christ,” he said. “No need to get snippety. I was only asking a civil question.”

I didn’t say anything to this. I lay there on my back, panting with pain, just trying to gather my forces before attempting to get up again, and maybe this time actually make it not only out of this room but out of this house. 

“I finished my drink and went out into the street,” said Dan Duryea, on the television. “I started to walk. I had to think. I had to try to think of a way out. But the more I thought the more I realized that there was no way out. I was fucked, and fucked royal. And then it started to rain. Needless to say, I didn’t have an umbrella. So I went into another bar. What the hell I thought. I might as well get one last good load on for the road, for that lonely dark road that led to one place and one place only: the electric chair!”

I could hear the sound of the rain from the movie mixing in with the sound of the rain outside this house I was in, the crackling sound of the burning logs in the fireplace, the sound of my labored breathing, and, finally, the sound of the colonel’s voice again.

“Five hundred and like thirty years,” he said.

“What?” I said.

“That’s how old that rug you’re lying on is. Approximately five hundred and thirty-odd years.”

“I’m sorry,” I said. I was still lying there on my back, looking up at the colonel looking down at me. “I’m sorry I accidentally fell over the coffee table and knocked the drinks and ashtrays over onto your rug.”

“Well, that’s a little better then,” he said. “Is it so hard just to say your sorry? To apologize?”

If only he knew who he was really talking to. I spent half my life apologizing. But I didn’t say that. I tried to be big about it.
“No, it’s not hard,” I said. 

I got up on one elbow, my right elbow, the elbow that didn’t hurt. Well, it hurt, but not as much as the other one. I rested a moment before what I knew would be the agonizing process of getting all the way to my feet again, or trying to.

“What you want to do,” said the colonel, “is get some sponges and towels, a bucket of water, clean that shit up before it settles in the fibers.”

I looked up at the painting.

“Look, mister –” I said.

“Call me Colonel,” he said. “It’s true that I purchased my commission, and I know I was only in the army for four years, but I am perhaps foolishly proud of the title.”

“Okay,” I said. “Colonel.”

“Thank you. Were you in the military?”

“Yes,” I said.

“See any action?”

“No,” I said.


“No,” I said.

I took a breath and managed to push myself up to a sitting position.

“You know what we used to call chaps like you? The chaps who as you say saw no action?”


“Ha ha. No. Know what we used to call you?”

“Okay, Colonel –” I said.

REMFs,” he said. “REMFs. Get it?”

I put my left arm out to grab onto the coffee table, to brace myself before trying to stand up.

“Rear echelon mother fuckers,” he said. “REMFS. Get it?”

I tried to push myself up, but my elbow gave out a spasm of pain, and I sat back down again.

“REMFs,” he said. “Ha ha. The bawdy humor of the line soldier. So, getting back to the problem of the rug, if you go into the kitchen you should be able to find some rags and cleaning products, and don’t forget a bucket too, there’s probably one under the sink –”

“Look, Colonel,” I said, “I’m sorry about the rug, I really am, but I can’t clean it up. I have to go before your, uh – what is it, grandchildren?”

“Great-grandchildren actually.”

“I have to get out of here before they come back.”

“Oh,” he said. “Just like that, huh?”

“I’m sorry,” I said. 

I was preparing myself to try to get up again.

“’Sorry’,” he said. “Well, a fat lot of good ‘sorry’ does. You can take your ‘sorry’ and stuff it up your narrow ass, buddy.”

“Send me the cleaning bill,” I said.

“You know you’ll never get out of here in time,” he said. “Nadine will be back any second. I’m surprised she’s not here already.”

I had my hand on the edge of the coffee table still, and once again I pushed up, gritting my teeth. 

I got to a half-standing position, and suddenly my right knee buckled under me, and then my left one, and I fell again. I didn’t want to land on my knees so I twisted my body to the right, and managed this time to fall on my side.

I drew both my knees towards my chest, and put my hands on my shins, breathing deeply, trying to hug and breathe the pain away.

“Wow, that really looks like it hurts,” said the colonel. 
“Of course I saw a lot worse than that in the war. A lot worse, plenty of times. Nadine should be back any second. If I know her she had to ‘freshen up’ her make-up. Terribly vain that girl. Why don’t you try to get up again? You look pathetic lying there.”

I looked at the TV set. Now it seemed like Dan Duryea was looking right at me.

“Why don’t you join me?” he said, Dan Duryea said, to me. “Could it be any worse than your present situation?”

He lifted a drink. It looked like a highball.

“Come on,” he said. “I’ll buy you a drink.”

He looked pretty drunk. But then I had been drinking a lot too, who was I to point a finger?

“Oh, I think I hear Nadine’s footsteps now,” said the colonel. “Her delicate bare feet padding down the stairs. Doubtless with an enormous sheath of her bad poetry for you to read. Boy, are you fucked, pal.”

I started dragging myself towards that big console TV set.

“What the fuck are you doing?” said the colonel.

“Yeah, come on in,” said Dan Duryea. “Join me, pal.”

I was right in front of the TV. It was a Philco. Up close like this Dan Duryea’s face was enormous, curved and distorted, like someone’s face in a funhouse mirror.

“Hey, asswipe –” said the colonel.

I was tired of listening to him. I pushed myself up onto my burning knees, and, stretching my arms out in front of me, fingers extended, I put my hands into the television screen.

“That’s it,” said Dan Duryea. “Come on in!”

I leaned closer to the TV. My arms were sunk into the screen all the way up to my elbows.

By now I knew how this sort of thing would work. All I had to do was push myself forward, to throw myself into the screen and I would be inside the television, in the world of the movie that Dan Duryea was in. Maybe he could help me. And even if he couldn’t, at least I would be escaping Nadine and her goofy siblings.

I stuck my head through the screen.

Now at least my head was in this other world. It was as if my eyes were a movie camera, and I was filming Dan Duryea’s smiling drunken face looking right at me. He was in a bar. Another bar. How many bars had I already been in this day and night? It felt like dozens.

The bar was crowded, noisy. Someone was playing a piano. It looked like fun, even to me.

“That’s it,” said Dan Duryea. “Come on over, pal. Belly up.”

I don’t know why, but something about the drunken way he said that, something about that crowded bar he was in made me think twice about entering yet another world, another world maybe even farther away from my own world, and I pulled my head out of the television screen, and then my hands.

“Aw, pal,” said Dan Duryea. “Come on back!”

I reached over and turned the television dial to OFF.

Dan Duryea’s sad drunken face flickered and disintegrated, shrinking into a fuzzy white ball that grew tinier and tinier and then disappeared, to be replaced by a blank flat grey.

Weirdo,” said the colonel. “What’s it like to be such a weirdo?”

I didn’t answer him. I put both hands on top of the TV console and forced myself to my feet, cringing with pain of course.

“Arnold,” said Nadine’s voice. “Whatever are you doing?”

I turned. She was coming across the room, carrying a big book of some sort.

“I thought I’d turn the TV off,” I said.

“What’s up with those glasses and ashtrays on the rug?”

“My knee gave out when I was getting up,” I said. “And I fell.” Again, I had a rare opportunity to speak the truth. But then the lying started again. “I was just going to clean all that up.”

“Why are you grimacing? Are you in pain?”

“Yes,” I admitted, through bared teeth, sweat pouring down my face.

“Oh, you silly man,” she said. She was standing near the end of the sofa now. “Come sit back down at once. Can’t leave you alone for a minute, can I?”

I limped back over to the sofa, came around the coffee table without tripping this time, and sat down in the spot I had vacated. 

I sighed. It did feel better to get off my feet.

“Here,” Nadine said. She came over and held the big book out to me. “Take this while I clean this mess up.”

I took the book, and Nadine got down on her haunches and began picking up the cocktail tray and the glasses and ashtrays, also that rhinoceros-horn table lighter, putting them all back on the coffee table.

I looked at the cover of the big book. It looked like real leather, dark and shiny, and embossed on it in what looked like gold were the words

My Poetry
by Nadine Belleforest

“Now you’re in for it,”
said the colonel in the painting. “Maybe you should have dived into that television set after all.”

Well, maybe I should have, but it was too late now. 

(Continued here, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how much longer, as yet another trove of Arnold Schnabel’s neatly handwritten marble copybooks has recently been discovered, this time under a stack of The Catholic Standard & Times newspapers in an old steamer trunk in the back of the garden shed of his aunts’ former property in Cape May, NJ.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a possibly reasonably-updated listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. Arnold’s adventures are now available for a laughably low fee on your Kindle™.  All profits are in aid of the Arnold Schnabel Society's Charitable Trust©.)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 450: Belleforest

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel, sitting here on a sofa with those charming siblings Nadine, Cathy and Terence, in their stately Greenwich Village townhouse on this rainy night in August of 1957...  

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; click here to travel back even further in time to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 67-volume memoir)

“As I inexorably approach what the Bawdy Bard called that
‘undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveler returns’ I can think of no better way to pass the time still left to me than to sit in my old La-Z-Boy recliner and lose myself in the immortal world (nay – worlds – infinitely plural!) of Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in the Times Literary Supplement Special Summer Supplement.

“Thank you, Arnold,” said Nadine (whose name I suddenly remembered again, at least for the time being). “Are you looking at that dreadful painting?”

“Yes,” I admitted.

That’s our great-grandfather. Isn’t he frightening?” 

“Yes, a little,” I said, although I didn’t mention his speaking, or his mirthless laughter.

“Colonel Lucretius Punctilius Belleforest,” she said. “I suppose you’ve heard of him.”

“Oh, sure,” I said, just automatically lying for no good reason.

“Odd to think that we three – Terence, Cathy and I – are the last of the proud Belleforest line.”

I didn’t care. But it’s rude to say that sort of thing, so, just to say something I said:

“Well, you’re all still young –”

“Ha!” said Terence. “I don’t think I’ll be producing any heirs, I’ll tell you that much!”

“I don’t think I could stand getting so fat,” said Cathy. She was playing with my earlobe again.

“I think I could have a child,” said Nadine, still caressing my thigh by the way. “Just one maybe. But I should have to find the right man.”

“What about Arnold?” said Cathy.

“Oh, Arnold is far too independent,” said Nadine, “far too bohemian, far too devoted to his work to be interested in fatherhood, aren’t you, Arnold?”

“Yes,” I said, trying to sound as emphatic as possible.

“Too bad,” she said, and she gave my thigh another good squeeze. I continued to hold the bottom right front flap of my jacket over my erection.

“So,” said Terence. “Arnold, old man – sandwiches? Cheese and crackers?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Sandwiches or cheese and crackers?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said.

“Liverwurst okay? Chicken? Baloney?”

“Anything,” I said.

“And what kind of cheese do you like?”

“Any kind,” I said.

“Even Limburger?”

“Terence,” said Nadine, “stop grilling Arnold and go make him up a nice little platter – sandwiches, cheese, crackers, the lot.”

“And, again,” said Terence, “of course it’s me who has to do it.”

“Oh, balls,” said Nadine.

“I mean, really,” said Terence. “What am I, a servant around here?”

“You’re a lazy idle loafer is what you are,” said Nadine.




“Limp dick.”

While all this was going on Cathy continued to pull on my earlobe, and to caress the side of my face, to run her fingernails through the probably somewhat greasy stubble on my chin and my cheek, and her sister continued to squeeze my thigh, and so my erection continued unabated.

I tried to concentrate on Dan Duryea on the TV. He was sitting at a bar, the sort of bar you only ever see in movies, where nearly everything was white, and on a stage Lizabeth Scott was singing with a combo, “Begin the Beguine”.

Dan Duryea’s highball looked pretty good to me, and I remembered that I still had an only half-drunk highball of my own on the tray on the coffee table in front of me, and so, as Nadine and Terence continued to call each other names, I picked up the drink and poured a good gulp of it down my gullet.

“Jitbag,” said Nadine.

“Skank,” said Terence.

“Tell me something,” said that gruff man’s voice again. “Yes, you, moron.”

I knew who it was, although I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I decided to ignore him, and I pretended I didn’t or couldn’t hear him.

“Don’t ignore me,” he said. “And don’t pretend you can’t hear me, either. Look at me when I’m addressing you!”

Reluctantly I turned my head and looked at the painting of the Civil War colonel. He was really glaring at me now.

“That’s better,” he said. “So, let me ask you a question. I know you didn’t come here to read Nadine’s doggerel, so what exactly are you doing here?”

I didn’t want to be heard talking to a painting, and so I shrugged, which come to think of it, was probably as good an answer to his question as anything else I might come up with.

“I suppose what you’re really hoping to do is to get into Nadine’s underdrawers, am I right?”

This was definitely not the case, and so I shook my head.

“Oh, so it’s young Cathy you’re after, is that it?”

Again I shook my head, and just as emphatically.

“You’re not?” he said. “What are you, a nancy boy, hoping to pack some fudge with Terence are you?”

Again I shook my head, with even more emphasis.

“So you’re just here for the free food and drinks I suppose, hey?”

I shrugged. I didn’t really know why I was there.

“Ah, fuck it,” he said. “This is what it’s come to. As Nadine, said, the last of the proud Belleforest line. These three loons.”

Again I shrugged. The conversation was working out fairly well with me contributing only shrugs and head-shakes, maybe some modest facial expressions. Perhaps I should adopt this nonverbal method more frequently in my dealings with other people, or animate objects.

“Three great-grandchildren,” he went on, “squandering the fortune I worked so assiduously to acquire. Disgracing the family name with their antics. And me stuck here and not a damn thing I can do about it!”

I didn’t know what to say to this. I said nothing.

“And, yes,” he said, and then sighed, “soon, soon enough, this proud family name, yes, some would say this overweening family name, soon this name which once struck fear and awe and envy into the hearts of men and women and hermaphrodites alike, soon this proud name, I suppose I should say once-proud name, soon this name will be forgotten.”

To this I replied with a sort of half-turn of the head, lips pursed slightly, gazing off into innumerable possible futures, in one of which this name he was talking about would not be forgotten, although I had myself already forgotten it.

You’ve forgotten it!” he said, suddenly.

I gave a look that was meant to express the idea that I was sorry, but I didn’t know what he was referring to.

“My name!” he said, shouted really. “You’ve forgotten it already, haven’t you?”

I tried to remember it, but the old fellow was right, I had completely forgotten the name. I suppose I made a sheepish expression, my eyes darting to the TV set, where Dan Duryea was talking to the bartender, who was played by William Bendix.

“Belleforest!” the colonel yelled. “Belleforest! The Belleforests of Bleecker Street!

I looked up from the TV and gave the colonel what I hoped was an enthusiastic-seeming series of rapid nods, as if I actually never had forgotten the stupid name. 

“Don’t lie to me, you young motherfucker,” he said. “I read you like a book. A very bad, pointless, and sloppily written book, I might add!”

I hung my head.

“But tell me something,” he said. “Did you then not know Nadine was a Belleforest?”

I shook my head. Every once in a while I was able honestly to tell the truth.

“Well, y’know, that’s something then,” he said. “Maybe you’re not as big a loser as you look like after all. Because if you did indeed not know that Nadine was a Belleforest, then that at least indicates that possibly – and I say possibly – you are not after her just for her money. Or are you?”

Again I shook my head, in what I hoped was an emphatic-seeming way.

“Y’know,” he said, “I’m almost beginning to like you, kid, although I can’t say I approve of the way you’re dressed. Never had much time for bohemians myself. Or are you just a slob?”

I shrugged.

“Okay, look, you know what?” he said. “Forget everything I said. You look like you’re pretty down at your heels. You know what you should do? Make a play for Nadine. Marry her. She and her two siblings haven’t completely squandered the family fortune yet. Maybe there’s still a chance to keep the Belleforest bloodline alive. So, go on, you have my blessing.”

“Hey, you know what, Nadine?” said Terence, and I realized that those two had been at it the whole time I had been conversing with the colonel. “You can suck my dick.”

“I’ll put my foot up your ass is what I’ll do,” said Nadine. “Although on second thoughts you would probably enjoy that.”

I suddenly realized that my erection had subsided again. If I was going to act I had better act now.

“Listen,” I said, putting down my glass, which I had been holding but not drinking from all this time, “I don’t mean to be a source of dissension, so maybe it’s best that I go after all.”

“What?” said Nadine.

“I think maybe I’d better, like, go,” I said.

“No!” shrieked Cathy in my ear.

“No!” echoed Nadine.

“Oh, here we go again,” said Terence. “Scaring another one off, Miss Nadine!”

“Me?” said Nadine. “What about you, Mr. Too-Good-to-Get-off-His-Lily-White-Ass-and-Make-a-Snack-for-Poor-Arnold!”

“The both of you are scaring him off!” said Cathy.

“Well, I don’t see you volunteering to fix Arnold a plate, you spoiled brat,” said Terence.

“For once Terence has a point, little sister,” said Nadine.

“I’ll make him a plate!” said Cathy. “I may not be able to cook, but I can make a cold-cut sandwich, by golly!”

“Then do it, damn it,” said Nadine, “and stop draping yourself so shamelessly all over Arnold like some dockside slattern.”

“You should talk,” said Cathy. “You’ve been kneading his thigh there like a piece of pie dough.”

“Okay,” I said. “I guess I should go –”

I started to get up once again, but both girls pulled me back down again.

“Stay!” yelled Cathy. “Come on, Terence, we’ll both fix Arnold something nice, right now.”

I could scarcely believe it, but, amazingly, Terence sat up and put his rope sandals back on and then he and Cathy both got up off the sofa, and, chattering about something I’ve completely forgotten if it ever registered at all, they both left the room, heading out the way I had come in.

Which left me alone with Nadine.

“Finally,” she said. She still had her hand on my thigh, and now she put her face close to mine. “Would you like to kiss me?” she said.

“Well, you know what I’d really like?” I said. For once my brain was not only working, but working at top speed, or top speed for me, anyway, which is probably about half-speed for the average adult human being.

“To have sex?” she said. “We’d have to move very quickly if that’s the case.”

“Well,” I said, “that sounds pretty good, but what I’d really like to do first is to read some of that poetry of yours.”

“You would?” she said. 

“Sure,” I lied, blatantly. “I’d love to.”

“Like right now?”

“Why not?” I said.

“Oh my goodness. I’d have to run up to my room and get it.”

“I can wait,” I said.

“I won’t be a mo.”

“Take your time,” I said.

She stubbed out her cigarette.

“Make yourself another highball if you like.”

“I might do that,” I said.

She lifted her glass to her lips and finished off her green drink, then put down the glass.

“I’m so excited,” she said.

“Me too,” I said.

“And, please, help yourself to a cigarette if you want one.”

“Maybe I will,” I said.

She finally got up. She didn’t bother to put her shoes back on. She leaned down and touched my face.

“If you don’t want to shave you should grow a proper beard,” she said. “No woman likes to have her face or God forbid the tender flesh of her inner thighs rubbed raw by a man’s stubble.”

I had no reply to this, but she didn’t wait for one, and she went off, striding across the room, staggering just slightly, and she went out and to the right, disappearing from my view.

I was alone at last.

Except for Dan Duryea on the TV, who was lifting a drink.

And except for the colonel in the painting.

“I see what you’re doing,” he said. “I guess you think you’re pretty fucking sharp.”

I didn’t dignify that remark with a response and instead got up, but I had forgotten about my bad knees, and as soon as I was upright I got a horrible stab of pain in my right knee, and as I lifted that leg to take my weight off it, my other knee buckled and came down on the edge of that heavy marble coffee table, causing another sharp stab of agony from that knee, and I fell headfirst over the table, knocking the tray and the glasses that were on it onto the floor, with myself following right behind them. 

(Continued here, and onward, until that last marble copybook filled with Arnold’s neat Palmer-Method handwriting has been carefully transcribed, and there are plenty more left.)

(Drawing by Edward Gorey. Please turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a rigorously updated listing of all other officially-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven™. A few tickets are still available for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Walking Tour of Arnold Schnabel’s Greenwich Village, culminating in a “Beef ‘n’ Beer Bash” at Bob’s Bowery Bar, with  your M.C. Horace P. Sternwall and musical entertainment provided by “Freddy Ayres & Ursula ‘n’ Friends”, featuring special guest “Magda” on the Hohner electric piano and vocals.)