Saturday, October 31, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 462: Bowery Bert

On this rainy hot night in old New York City our hero Arnold Schnabel has finally escaped from an importunately poetic cab driver to find himself here on the sidewalk in front of Bob’s Bowery Bar...

(Please go here to read our preceding thrilling episode; if you are looking for the literary equivalent of
The Guiding Light or As The World Turns then by all means click here to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 77-volume epic.)

“How curious that one of the greatest works of literature of the 20th century – a work worthy to be mentioned in the same breath with the
chefs-d'œuvre of Proust, Joyce, Mann, and Sternwall – should be produced by a humble former railroad brakeman named Arnold Schnabel?” – Harold Bloom; from the Introduction to his “It's Easy to Say Too Much”: The Wit and Wisdom of Arnold Schnabel, Vol. 1.

Illustrations by rhoda penmarq.

Had that mad taxi driver deliberately dropped me off, at long last, at my desired destination? Or had we only accidentally wound up here just at the moment he decided to order me from his cab? Or what if he had merely been circling the block this entire time?

Well, no matter, I was getting drenched, and so I sent a curt message from the command center of my brain down through the complex system of pneumatic tubes that was my nervous system to my legs with an urgent request to carry this amorphous blob that was me across that rain-bombarded sidewalk to the entrance of the bar, and after only a minute or so my legs received the communiqué, and, after the appropriate processing, lifted their attached feet and sent them, one after the other, in the desired direction, and, sure enough, after a few seconds that seemed like five minutes I managed to make it to the entranceway without falling.

The door of the bar was open, as it had been earlier that evening, opening outward, and inside was that same mass of drunken humanity, or a similar one, the same or similar churning clouds of tobacco smoke, and, yes, also what I had learned to recognize as marijuana smoke, all mixed in with the smells of sweaty human beings, of perfume and whiskey and beer as well as the sickly sweet smell of something I could only describe as despair.

People laughed, yelled, shouted and cried, and a jukebox played something that I supposed was jazz. 

This area right in front of the doorway was sheltered under a few feet of overhang, and so at least I was out of the downpour here. But I was however in the full grip of those hashish brownies now, and even a normally routine and mundane action like walking into the bar seemed to call for careful planning – but after all, how hard could it be just to walk inside? It wasn’t as if I even had to do anything so complicated as opening the door. And I was just about to shoot another dispatch down to my legs to the effect of “Go inside, bear to the right, take me over to that booth where I last saw Josh, and Ferdinand, and Ben and Horace, and Mr. Philpot,” when a gust of wind blew the door against my left elbow.

“Excuse me,” I said, to the door, and I stepped aside.

Another gust promptly came along and blew the door completely shut, thus muffling the sounds of music and drunkenness within, and somehow increasing the volume of the crashing of the rain.

There was no getting around it now. I would have to open the door. Either that or wait for someone else to open it. But the latter course seemed silly; how difficult could it be to open a presumably unlocked door?

I certainly didn’t want to overthink the situation, but on the other hand I thought I should at the very least take stock of it before doing anything rash. The door was one of those doors with a curved tarnished brass handle and a lever for the thumb to depress: okay, it wasn’t as if I was trying to break into Fort Knox here. Just put my hand on the handle, press the lever thing down with my thumb, and then pull the door toward me. Try not to pull the door into my face and knock myself out. Pull the door open and then step inside. It really wasn’t all that difficult, hard, or complicated.

But which hand should I use? I was right-handed, I still am in fact, but if I used my right hand would that mean I would have to take some steps backward as I opened the door? What if I lost my balance and stumbled and fell? What if I hit my head on the pavement? I could kill myself, or become paralyzed, lying there on my back with the rain beating down on my face.

So maybe the left hand was better. Pull the door open, and then make a subtle sidling move around it as I did so. This maneuver would call for the utmost coöperation of my mental powers and the aforementioned pneumatic system of tubes that served as my nervous system, and of my entire body in fact, which unfortunately felt like it was made of Pillsbury dinner-roll dough.

I took a breath, and raised my left hand, preparing myself.

“Really pathetic,” said a voice from somewhere behind me and to my right, seemingly at about the height of my elbow.

I turned and saw a little old man. 

Yes, I know, it’s hard to believe, or maybe by this point it’s not hard to believe at all, but it was another one all right, another tiny dried up old man. 

This one was about five foot one, wearing a cloth cap and a baggy suit. Both the cap and the suit were the color of ashes in a tin ashtray that hasn’t been properly cleaned in years. He had an umbrella, which he was shaking the rain off of, opening and closing it partway, splashing rainwater on me, not that it mattered at all, I was already so soaked. The umbrella also had an ashy color, although it had probably been black forty years ago. The man was about eighty, at least he looked like he was eighty, and the flesh of his face was another, lighter shade of ash. He had a little cigar in it, it looked like one of those hard Italian-style cigars. He wore thick round wire-rimmed glasses that made his dark grey eyes seem as big as half-dollar coins.

He finished shaking out the umbrella and then furled it and buttoned it. His fingers were small and wizened but they seemed very deft. All I could think was, “I’ll bet he’ll have no problem opening the door.”

He took the cigar out of his mouth and blew some smoke up at me. Then he spoke.

“My name is Bert,” he said.

“Hi, Bert,” I said, and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to do so, unless I had only imagined it. So I thought I’d add more, just to be polite. “My name is Arnold –”

“I know who you are,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. “You do?”

“No, I’m lying.”

“Ah,” I said. “Ha ha. You’re lying?”

“No, you fool, I’m not lying. I was kidding. Jeeze.”

I tried to grasp some meaning from the words that had escaped his mouth, I tried and failed.

“You were – kidding,” I said, my own words echoing through the vast dark reaches of the universe, “ – when you said you knew my name was Arnold?” 

“No, I was kidding when I said I was lying when I said I knew who you were. And presumably still are. You see I’ve been sent here. I am your guardian angel.”

“Wow,” I said.

“That is your reaction? ‘Wow’?”

“Yes, well, I didn’t even know I had a guardian angel.”

“You didn’t have one, until now.”


“Think about it, Arnold: would it make sense for every human being to have their own guardian angel?”

“Well –” I paused, taking his advice and thinking it over. “I guess that would mean an awful lot of angels.”

“As many as there are human beings. Can you imagine all the angelpower that would require? Shuffling down a fresh guardian angel each time a new human is born?”

“Well,” I said, “on the other hand people are dying all the time too, right?”

“That’s very true, and guardian angels are indeed reassigned when their current human has passed on, be it to heaven, hell, purgatory or limbo, but even an angel needs some rest between cases – would you deny them that?”


“And, irregardless, there still aren’t enough angels to go around for every single human being on the planet, not nearly enough.”


“No way.”

“How many are there?” I asked.

“Guardian angels?”


“You’re not going to get all weird if I tell you, are you?”

“No,” I said. I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t get weird, but I wanted to move the conversation along.

“Six hundred and sixty-six,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. “That’s not a lot.”

“No, it isn’t,” he said. “But don’t you get it? Six hundred and sixty-six. Six six six.”


“The number of the beast,” he said.

“Ah,” I said.

“From the Book of Revelation? In the Bible?”

“Oh, okay,” I said. “The number of the, uh –”

“Beast,” he said.

“Right,” I said. “I think I’ve heard of that, uh.”

“Not much of a Bible reader, are you?”

“I’m a Catholic,” I said.

“Well, that explains it,” he said. “Okay, moving on, we’ve got six hundred and sixty-six guardian angels, so, needless to say, not everybody gets one.”

“That’s too bad,” I said.

“God doesn’t do bad things,” he said.

“I didn’t mean to point the finger,” I said.

“You shouldn’t question his infinite wisdom.”

“I try not to,” I said.

The little guy took a puff on his De Nobili or whatever it was, and blew the smoke up into my face again.

“I hope you realize how lucky you are.”

“Um, well, I hadn’t really thought about it –”

“Maybe you should think about it,” he said. “Millions of people on the planet – millions – and only six hundred and sixty-six guardian angels. And you get one of them.”

“Wow," I said. “I mean, rather, 'gee', I mean when you put it like that –”

“And I do.”

“Well, thanks,” I said.

“Don’t thank me. I go where he tells me to go,” he said, glancing upward.

“Well, uh, thank God, then,” I said.

“Don’t be a wiseass,” he said.

“I didn’t mean to be,” I said.

“Okay,” he said then. “To business. What’s the sit-rep here?”

“The what?”

“What’s going on? I assume there’s some sort of problem or I wouldn’t have been assigned to you.”

“They didn’t tell you?”

“Who is ‘they’?”

“The, uh, bosses of the guardian angels?”

He shook his head, in a resigned-looking sort of way, maybe a disgusted way.

“Look, Arnold, all I know is I’m supposed to be your guardian angel. But from what I can see you are at the present rather shall we say three sheets to the wind? Or is it four?”

“You mean I’m drunk?”

“That’s exactly what I mean. Either drunk or mentally retarded. So which is it.”

“Um,” I said, “– Bert?”

“Bert, yes, ‘Bowery Bert’ as I’m known in these parts.”

“Well, uh, pleased to, uh, meet you, uh, Bert.”

I extended a hand, my right one, but he ignored it, so I pretended I had a cramp in it and stretched out and retracted my fingers a few times.

“Bert,” I continued, after completing my little dumb-show with the hand, “I may be a little drunk, and it’s true I may even be somewhat mentally retarded, but I think that the reason I might appear to be completely drunk or retarded is that I ate some hashish brownies a little while ago, and –”

“Hashish brownies.”


“How many.”


“You ate five hash brownies.”


“I see. So may I assume then that you are a drug addict?”

“No,” I said, after a pause. “I honestly wouldn’t say that.”

“Arnold,” said my new guardian angel with a sigh, “you know what ‘denial’ is?”

“Um, uh –”

“I’ll tell you what denial is not.”

“Okay,” I said.

“It is not just a river in Egypt.”

“Uh-huh. Okay.”

“Accepting you have a problem is the first step in solving that problem. Now I want you to repeat after me: ‘My name is Arnold, and I am a drug addict.’”

“But, honest, I’m not a drug addict.”

“Really? Mr. Hashish Brownie?”

“But that was a mistake,” I said. 

“A mistake.”

“Yes,” I said. “You see, I thought they were regular brownies.”

“Uh-huh. Okay. You just happened to eat five hash brownies by mistake.”

“I know it sounds –”



“It does. It also leads me to suspect that possibly your real problem is that you are a moron. But let’s move on.”

“To where?”

“Where do you want to go?”

“Well – I’d like to go home,” I said.

“Wouldn’t we all. And if you want to go home why are you standing at the door of Bob’s Bowery Bar.”

“That’s a very long story,” I said.

“Can you sum it up in twenty-five words or less?”

“Possibly,” I said. “But the problem with that is finding the right twenty-five words, and putting them in the most effective, uh –”


“Yeah,” I said, “sequence, and then sending them through this complex system of pneumatic tubes inside me down to my mouth and my tongue.”

“In other words the immediate problem is the hashish brownies.”

“I think so,” I said. “Yes.”

“Fine. This I can work with. ‘We’ can work with, because it’s got to be a team effort, Arnold. I’m just your guardian angel. You’ve got to do some of the heavy lifting yourself.”


“So.” He tapped his De Nobili or Parodi with his finger, and the ash tumbled down to land on the instep of my left work shoe. “We deal with the hashish brownie problem and then we deal with whatever the main problem is. Which is getting you home?”


“What. You sound doubtful.”

“It’s just that now that I think about it I don’t know if that’s my real main problem.”

He paused before speaking again, as if he were counting to ten. I think I may have been trying his patience.

“And what would that be,” he said. “Your so-called main problem.”

“Being a human being?” I said.

(Continued here, for the sake not only of the present generation, but of all the generations yet unborn.)

(Kindly cast an eye down the right-hand column of this page to find a perhaps reasonably accurate listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Click here to order a copy of our friend Kathleen Maher’s excellent début full-length novel Diary of a Heretic!)

Friday, October 23, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 461: poem

Let’s rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the back seat of a Yellow taxi cab speeding through the streets of Manhattan on this rainy hot night, just as his driver “Al” is about to begin reciting a poem titled “The Song of the Lonely Cab Driver; or, a Ballad of the City Streets, in One Thousand and One Stanzas”...

(Kindly click here to read last week’s exciting chapter; if you are new here and wondering just what the hell this is all about then you should immediately go here and start reading this Gold View Award™-winning 57-volume memoir from the very beginning.)

“Yes, it’s true, Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling
chef-d'œuvre is ‘long’, and indeed it grows longer by the week as his neatly handwritten copybooks are transcribed and published, but – and I think I may speak for all of Arnold’s thousands of devoted fans – however long this glorious work is I should not wish it to be shorter – nay, quite the opposite!” – Harold Bloom, from his The World of Arnold Schnabel: An Introduction for Younger Readers.

Special guest illustrations by rhoda penmarq ateliers internationale™  – thanks, rhoda!

“Excuse me,” I said, leaning forward in my seat. “Before you start.”

“Yeah?” said the driver. “What is it?”

“Did you just say ‘one thousand and one stanzas’?”

“Yeah, what’re ya, hard of hearing? Like I told ya, the poem’s called ‘The Song of the Lonely Cab Driver' – that’s me – ’or, a Ballad of the City Streets, in One Thousand and One Stanzas’. And so, without further ado, here goes –”

“Um,” I broke in, making little waving motions with my hands, “excuse me, but if I could just ask one more question.”

Even through the cigar smoke that had by then replaced all of the air inside the cab I could see that the man was staring hard at me in his rear-view mirror, but at least he wasn’t turning all the way around to stare at me, not yet, anyway. 

“Okay,” he said. ”Sure. One more question. One.

“Thanks,” I said, “So, I just wanted to ask you, does your poem really have, like, one thousand and one stanzas?”

I shouldn’t have said that, because he threw his arm over the seat back and turned around to look at me, all the while steering the cab with his left hand through that crashing rain.

“Lemme ask you a question now,” he said.

“Okay,” I said, and probably if I were the author of one of those cheap novels I like to read I would have written, “’Okay,’ I said, nervously.”

“I mean, if that’s okay with you,” he said. “Me kinda answering your question with another question.”

“Sure,” I said.

“You’re positive,” he said.

“I think so,” I said.

“You think so,” he said. “But you’re not sure.”

“I’m not sure of anything,” I said.

“Awright,” he said. He tapped his cigar with his finger, and the ash and some attendant sparks tumbled down into the darkness of the footspace. “Fair enough. But it is okay I ask you a question.”

“Yes,” I said, and I suddenly remembered the revolver I still had in my seersucker jacket’s side pocket. It was probably too early to bring it out, but it was good to know I had that option.

“Okay, then,” said the driver, Al, that was his name, I figured I should try to remember it, “my question to you is why would I call the poem ‘The Song of the Lonely Cab Driver' meor, a Ballad of the City Streets, in One Thousand and One Stanzas’ if the fucking poem did not have one thousand and one stanzas? Would that not be like false advertising?”

“Oh,” I said; “yeah, you’re absolutely right, but, um –”

“Then why you ask me a question like that? Do I look like a what – a fraud to you? Some kinda con man? I look like a gypsy fortune teller to you, some kind of chiseler? Some kinda literary three-card monte mountebank?”

“No,” I said. “It was a foolish question, but, look, you said you would face front while you’re driving, so, please –”

“All right, I’ll face front,” he said. “Only ‘cause I said I would if you listened to my poem. And I’m a man what stands by his word. You ‘dig’ me, as you hepcats say?”

“Yes,” I said, “I ‘dig’ you, now if you would please –”

“Awright, awright,” he said, and finally he turned around and faced front, just in time to go through a red light again.

“Now,” he said, “if I may begin –”

“Oh, but just one more question,” I said.

He looked at me in what seemed a very cold way in the rear-view mirror. He took a big drag on his cigar, and then slowly exhaled. You wouldn’t have thought any more smoke could have fit into that cab, but it did.

“Okay, pal,” he said. “One last question. One. And I repeat: one – not two or three or three fucking dozen – but one more. Now what the fuck is your question.”

“My question is,” I said – and then I couldn’t remember my question, it was as if I were staring into the abyss of deepest outer space, and every twinkling star in all of those millions of galaxies was a different question; but were there really millions of galaxies, maybe there were only thousands – thousands – and then I remembered my question – “do you propose to recite all one thousand and one stanzas of your poem?”


“Do you mean to recite every one of the one thousand –”

“That’s what I thought you said.”


“And my answer is: yes, of course I’m gonna recite all one thousand and one stanzas.

“Oh,” I said.

“You can’t get the full meaning of the poem unless you hear the whole thing, Arnold. You’re a poet, and you should know that. Frankly I am a little surprised you would even ask me such a bush-league question.”

“Well –”

He made a turn, a hard left through another red light, bouncing me off the door again, but I barely felt it.

“Lemme ask you another question, Arnie – ‘sit okay I call you Arnie by the way?”

“Sure,” I said, I didn’t care, especially because I had suddenly become aware that I was floating a couple of inches above my seat, and I was wondering if the top of my head would start bobbing against the inner roof of the cab.

“My question, Arnie,” he said, “is: if you are bangin’ one of them good-lookin’ broads that are always hanging all over you just on accounta you’re a poet – bangin’ away, bangin’ away –” he took his right hand off the wheel and made punching motions into the air with it – “I mean really bangin’ away – you wouldn’t pull out and just stop before you blew your load, would you?”

“Uh –”

“No,” he said. “I dare say you would not. So, yes, I intend to recite all one thousand and one stanzas of my poem.”

“But, listen,” I said, floating there above the back seat, “you said you would take me to Bob’s Bowery Bar –”

“Oh, my God, you and that Bob’s Bowery Bar!”

“But you said –”

“– I would take you,” he said, finishing my thought. “And I will. I will. After I recite my poem. Which you told me you would listen to, so I hope you are not going to turn out to be a liar.”

“But when I said I would listen to your poem I didn’t know it was going to be one thousand and one stanzas long.”

“If you have a point, please get to it, pal.”

“My point is I don’t want to listen to a one thousand and one stanza poem. I want to go to where I originally asked you to take me, and which you drove right past, some time back, five, ten minutes ago, and now we’re driving God knows where –”

“I turned off the meter, didn’t I?”

“I don’t care,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “Tell you what? See the meter? What’s it say?”

I looked over the seat at the meter, and after only a few seconds the numbers displayed on it translated themselves to the appropriate part of my brain.

“Seventy-eight cents?” I said.

“Correct,” he said. “But here’s what I’m gonna do – I’ll make it half price. What’s that? Thirty-nine cent? Awright, you seem like a nice guy, so I’ll give you a further break and round it down, make it thirty-five cent. How’s that.”

“I don’t care what it is,” I said. “I just want to go to –”

“I know, I know!” he said. He took another hard left through another red light, and the basketball that was my head bounced off the passenger window, albeit painlessly. “Bob’s Bowery Bar!” he yelled. “Christ, you act like that jernt is fucking I don’t know what, the El Morocco or somethin’! Well, I got news for ya, buddy, it ain’t! It’s just another stinking hellhole of a Bowery dive, another gathering place of the damned and the lost and the doomed! Now shut the hell up and let me recite my damn poem!”

“But –” I said, the word blurting out of my mouth like a little water balloon.

“No buts,” he said. “And don’t fucking interrupt me. Show some fucking respect to a fellow fucking poet. And now, to begin, at fucking last –”

He cleared his throat with a sound like the death cry of an gorilla, and then at last he began his recitation:

Oh, I am a lonely cab driver,

and this here is my song,
the song of a lonely cab driver,

which he sings as he rides along.

I have met so many strange people
as I drive all night and all day,
mostly middle class, and also rich people,
‘cause the poor people take the subway.

It’s too bad about them poor people
but I guess that’s just their bad luck;
some people God chooses to smile on,
other people he chooses to fuck.

Suddenly I became aware that my consciousness was floating deep inside my cranium somewhere, and that my body had turned into cotton candy, no, not cotton candy, but foam rubber, a great damp blob of warm foam rubber stuffed into the back seat of this cab, and this great blob that was me was floating between the seat and the roof of the cab, with the me that was me floating somewhere within the blob. 

And then I remembered, again: the brownies.

The hashish brownies.

Some small part of my brain told me that what I was feeling was the result of eating those brownies, and it also told me that I should above all not panic, because eventually the effect of the brownies would wear off, or at least I hoped it would.

I had missed a stanza or two while thinking these laborious thoughts, but now Al the cab driver’s words once again reverberated deep into the vast dark system of caves that was my brain:

...All these kinds of people I pick up
each one’s got a tale to tell,
each one of them’s got a million stories –

they’re all in their own private hell.

They all think that they’re the center
of the whole fucking universe,
and each one of them little universes
is going from bad to worse,

because every one of them people
and I don’t care how talented
or rich or powerful they are
they’re all going to wind up dead.

That’s right, every one of them people’s
gonna wind up buried six feet in the ground
or incinerated, whatever, point is
someday they ain’t gonna be around.

So what you may ask is the point of it all?

But how the fuck should I know?

I drive a cab for a living.

Who am I? Just another poor schmo.

“Okay,” I said, very suddenly, the words echoing from the hole in the blob that was my mouth. “I hate to interrupt you.”

“You just did,” he said. “And I asked you not to.”

“I know you did,” I said. “But here’s the thing. A little while ago I ate five hashish brownies, and –”


“Yes,” I said.

“What’re you, nuts?”

“I didn’t know they were hashish brownies,” I said.

“Ah, someone tricked ya, huh?”

“Not really,” I heard myself saying. “They actually told me they were hashish brownies, but I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Well, great,” he said, “and now can I continue with my poem?”

“Well, that’s the thing,” I said. “Your poem is scaring me.”

“Scaring you? It’s just a goddam poem.”

“I know, but still, it’s scaring me.”

“You really are a coward, aren’t you. First you’re scared because I wasn’t keeping my eyes on the road, and now you’re scared of a little poem.”

“It’s not a little poem. It’s one thousand and one stanzas, and I can’t take it.”

“Is that supposed to be a criticism?”

“No,” I said, “it’s just that, you know, the brownies and all, they’re making me very, uh, sensitive?”

“Sensitive, huh?’


“I’ll give you sensitive.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll show you what I mean. Sensitive.

Suddenly he wrenched the steering wheel hard to the left again, throwing the blob that was me against the door, and then he pulled the car to a stop, causing me to bump the head of the blob that was me against the seat-back in front of me.

“Ow,” I said, even though I had barely felt a thing.

“Awright,” he said. “Out.”

“Out?” I said.

“You heard me. Out of my fucking cab.”


I couldn’t believe my good luck.

“Yes, really. Criticize my fucking poem that I been writing in my head all day and night. Go on, get out.”

“Well, let me pay you,” I said.

“I don’t want your fucking money. I spit on your fucking money.”

“Maybe just a dollar for a tip?”

“You give me a dollar I’ll shove it up your ass. Now get the fuck out.”

“Okay,” I said. “Sorry.”


I decided it was best not to press my luck by saying anything else. I fumbled with the door handle on my left, and after a minute or two I got the door open, and got myself out, into the pouring crashing rain. I shut the door, being sure not to slam it, and the car roared off, spraying me with gutter water, which didn’t really matter because the downpour was soaking me to the bone anyway.

I turned around.

Talk about luck.

It was hard to believe, but there in front of me was a neon sign burning through the pouring rain, and the sign said:


(Continued here, as a service to Arnold’s growing legion of fans and fans-to-be.)

(Please scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a purportedly up-to-date listing of links to all other publicly available chapters of
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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

"The Blowhard"

Pete Willingham had opinions, lots of opinions, but the problem was that nobody in Wheeler’s Corners would listen to him anymore.

“Shut the hell up, Pete,” they would say when they came into Baxter’s General Store, where Pete had worked since he was fifteen years old.

“Stuff it, Pete,” they would say, “nobody wants to hear what you have to say.”

“For God’s sake, stick a sock in it, Pete,” they would say.

Finally Mr. Baxter realized he was losing business because of Pete, and so, after many warnings, one fine day he fired Pete.

Pete didn’t mind. Getting fired was just the push he needed. He had just finished a correspondence course in public speaking, and he had saved up close to one hundred dollars, so he packed up his cardboard suitcase and took the bus for New York City, where he intended to realize his dream of having his own radio program, and then people would listen to him, they would listen to him good.

The Blowhard, by Horace P. Sternwall (Top Shelf Books, 1951;  “paperback original”, one printing only, never republished).

(Scroll down the right hand column of this page to find a listing of many more excerpts from the sadly-obscure
oeuvre of Horace P. Sternwall.)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 460: the racket

On this rainy hot night in old Greenwich Village our hero Arnold Schnabel, escaping from yet another uncomfortable situation, has just gotten into a cab on Bleecker Street...  

(Please go here to read last week’s thrilling episode; if you’re arriving late to the party you may click here to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 69-volume memoir.)

“To read Arnold Schnabel’s towering
chef-d'œuvre is to embark upon a great journey – but to who knows where?” – Harold Bloom, from Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven: A Reader’s Guide.

The driver flicked on his meter, put the cab in gear, and pulled out, and as he did I took one last look over my shoulder out the window at Beverly, still standing there under the awning outside that bar. She saw my probably baleful visage through that crashing torrent and the window streaming with rainwater, and, raising her right hand, she gave me the finger.

I sat back in my seat. Through the increasing and simultaneous numbing and heightening of my senses and my consciousness brought on by my inadvertent gorging on those hashish brownies I still managed to feel sorry for Beverly, but it was just asking too much of me to join her in her world. Maybe now she would find someone better. At least maybe she could find someone who wasn’t suspected of murdering this Billingsly fellow, whoever he was…

My thoughts were interrupted by the cab driver, who, throwing his right arm over the seat back and turning almost full around to look at me, suddenly spoke.

“At first I didn’t make you.”

I had no idea on heaven or earth or any other plane of existence what he was talking about.

“Pardon me?” I said, pushing the syllables out of my mouth like golf balls. 

“I didn’t quite make you at first on account of you don’t mind my saying so you look like shit," he said. "What, you been gettin’ in fights and rollin’ in gutters all day and night?”

I tried to say something, but produced only something like the sound you make when a doctor asks you to open your mouth wide and say “ah”.

“You don’t remember me, do ya?” said the driver.

He had a sort of bunched-up face, with an unlit cigar stub in it, and he wore a yellow and black Yellow Cab cap.

“You do look a little familiar,” I found myself saying, and it hit me that this driver looked very much like the actor William Bendix. Was I still in a movie?

“I picked you up earlier today,” he said. “At the Plaza?”

“You did?”

“Took you down here to the Village. You’re the poet.”

Suddenly it all came back to me. Had it really been “today”? Because it felt like five-and-a-half years ago.

“Hi,” I said. That was all I could come up with.

“Porter, right?”

“Pardon me?”

“Porter Walker. That’s your name, ain’t it?”

True, it was one of my names, and I suppose my legitimate name in this world.

“Yes,” I said, just to give him the concise version, and then I realized that he had been looking back at me over the seat all the while he was driving quite quickly through that downpour. “Hey,” I said, “I don’t mean to tell you your job, but could you maybe look at the street instead of back at me?”

Suddenly the words were just pouring out of my mouth, set loose by the craven fear of sudden death in a crash, or, if I survived, a long and painful recovery in a hospital followed by living the rest of my life as a wincing and limping cripple.

After a pause of only half a minute the driver obligingly turned his head around, partway anyway, in the direction of the windshield with its swiping wipers and the rain pouring down on it, just like a windshield in a movie about betrayed passions and murder.

“We’re all right,” he said, and he turned and looked back at me again. “I been thinking about our conversation we had.”

“Really?” I said. “Hey, listen, why don’t you just let me out here.”

“What, right here?”

“Sure,” I said. “Anywhere. Here is fine.”

“Do you even know where we are?”

“No,” I said. “But I think I’d like to get out anyway.”

“Does my talking annoy you?”

“No,” I said. “Or rather, yes, but the real reason I want to get out is you’re scaring me because you won’t watch where you’re driving.”

“Hey, pal, I been driving a cab almost twenty years with just a few years off in there when I was serving my country in the army so don’t tell me my job.”

“But I’m scared.”

“Would it make you less scared if I kept my eyes on the road?”

“Yes!” I said, doing my best not to emit a high-pitched keen of abject fear.

“Sheesh,” he said, but he finally turned around and faced the front. “I hope it’s okay if I just like glance at you in the rear-view while we converse,” he said, and he adjusted his mirror above the windshield so he could see my face in it, and I his. “I mean I hope that don’t bother you.”

“No, that’s okay,” I said. “But I really wish you would just glance in the mirror only occasionally, and mostly keep your eyes on the, like, road.”

“You wish.”

“Yes,” I said. “If you don’t mind.”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” he said. “I ain’t that thin-skinned. Not after almost a fifth of a fucking century driving a cab in this crazy town." He made a left turn, going through a red light, but we didn't crash into anything, not yet. "So like I say, I was thinking about our conversation all day. And all night. Thinking. Probably you wasn’t, though. Right?”

Frankly I hadn’t thought about it all and I couldn’t even remember what we had talked about, but just to be nice I lied, and said, “Oh, no, I thought about it.”

“You did?” he said.

“Sure,” I said.

“And what did you think about it?”

Those hashish brownies I had eaten must have really taken over here, because I said:

“I just thought that it’s, um, really important for me as a poet to hear what guys like you have to say. The regular guys. The regular Joes. The working men. The, the backbone of our society.”

“For real?”

“For real,” I said.

“’Cause what I was thinking was, like maybe I could get in your racket.”

“My racket?”

“The poetry racket.”

“Ah, yes,” I said.

“I mean, you said you was doing okay, right?”

“I suppose so,” I said.

“Pulling in a good fifty clams a week?”

“Um –”

“Plus, I bet you got dames crawling all over ya.”

“Well, I don’t know –”

“I seen that blonde dame outside Bill’s Bar there. The one that said fuck you to you. Not bad. Not bad at all. I wished I could find dames like that what would say fuck you to me.”

“Um –”

“But dames are like that. They like artistic type guys. But you know what kind of guys dames don’t like?”

“Uh –”

Taxi drivers. That’s what kind of guys dames don’t like. At least good-looking dames like that blondie back there.”

“Well, I’m sure, uh, there are women who, uh –”

“Don’t gimme that crap, pal.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I live my life. I know what kind of dames guys like me attract. Dames what look like Thelma Ritter. Or Jane Darwell maybe. Beulah Bondi at best. Don’t patronize me, pal!”

“Sorry,” I said.

“So that’s why I got to thinking: maybe – just maybe – I could write poems too.”


What else could I say?

“Maybe – just maybe I could be a professional poet, too,” he said. “Just like you, pal.”

“Well, uh, why not?” I said. “By the way, are we near Bob’s Bowery Bar yet?”

“Oh, shit.”

“What?” I said.

“I went past it. I got so innerested in what we was talking about I made the left turn on the Bowery and went on right past the jernt.”

“How far past?”

“Not too far, buddy, it’s just a few blocks back, maybe a little more than a few. Tell ya what I’ll do, I’ll turn the meter off.”

“Okay,” I said. “Thanks.”

And he actually did shove the handle of the meter down, but then he proceeded to drive right past a cross street, running a red light.

“Excuse me,” I said, “but you are going to turn around, aren’t you? And take me to Bob’s Bowery Bar?”

He turned in his seat again, his right arm over the seat back, and he glared at me.

“I said I was gonna take you there, didn’t I?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, leave the driving to me. I know what the fuck I’m doin’, and I will take the very next turn – I mean if that’s all right with you.”

“Um, okay,” I said. “But, um.”

“Um? Um what”

“Um,” I said, “I hate to keep harping on this subject, but I really would feel more comfortable if you kept your eyes on the road.”

“Okay,” he said, but he kept looking at me. “What happened to you, anyway? You don’t mind my saying so, you look like shit warmed over. Your clothes all wet and dirty, you got a black eye, bruises on your face. Is that what it’s like being a poet? Just going around brawling and drinking all night. And getting beautiful babes mad at you so they say fuck you?”

“Well, I really couldn’t speak for all poets,” I said. I saw through the window that we had just passed another cross street, running another red light. “By the way, what was wrong with that street we just passed?”

“What street?” He turned finally and looked out the windshield, then turned back again and looked past me out the rear window. “Oh. Okay, no problem. I missed that one, but I’ll make the next turn, I promise.” Then he looked at me in a way that seemed to bunch up his face even more than it already was, but maybe that was just the brownies. “You ain’t in some big hurry, are ya?”

“Yes,” I said.

“You’re in a hurry to get to Bob’s Bowery Bar.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Why in God’s name would anybody be in a hurry to get to that jernt?”

“Please,” I said, “can you just look at the road, please?”

“Wow, I was only asking a question, Porter.”

“I’ll answer all your questions if you’ll only keep your eyes on where you’re driving.”

“All my questions?”

“Yes,” I said. “Oh, wait, look –"

We were coming up to another cross street, and this one even had a green light.

"What?" he said.

We drove past the street.

"Um," I said.

“Oh,” he said, taking a glance out at the street. “Sorry. I’ll hang the next one, I promise.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“You’re most welcome.”

“But, please,” I said.


“You said you would watch the road.”

“Now, I never actually said that.”

“But I’m asking you to.”

“And what’s the magic word?”


“Okay, then,” he said. “That’s better.”

And finally he turned around and faced front again. He gave the rear-view mirror another adjustment, just a millimeter or so, and looked at me in it.

“You said you would answer my question.”

“What was the question.”

“Why the fuck are you in such a goddam hurry to get to a dive like Bob’s Bowery Bar.”

“Oh. Uh, well, I have some, uh, friends there, and, uh, you know –”

“So you want to hear the poem I wrote?”

“Pardon me?” I said.

“The poem I wrote. You want to hear it?”

“You wrote a poem?”

“I sure did.” He turned around and looked at me again. He tapped the side of his cap. “I wrote it in here, while I was driving around all day and night. You want to hear it?”

“I really just want to get to –”

“I know, I know, Bob’s Bowery Bar, Bob’s fucking Bowery Bar, and your so-called ‘friends’, and, lookit, I’m taking you there. Okay? I said I would and I will. But would you like to hear the poem I wrote in my head today, while I am driving you to Bob’s fucking Bowery bar.”

“Okay,” I said. “Sure.”

“You’re sure.”

“Sure,” I said. “But, look, if you don’t mind –”


“Can you please just keep your eyes on the road, because I’m really getting scared here.”

“Jeeze, you really are a coward, ain’t you?”

“Yes,” I said. “So, please, turn around, and I’ll listen to your poem.”

“Okay,” he said. “That’s fair.”

He turned and faced front, just as we were speeding past another cross street and another red light.

“Shit,” he said. “Missed another turn. No matter, I got the meter turned off.” He looked at me in the mirror. “You ready to hear my poem?”

“Yes,” I said. Of course I wasn’t ready to hear his poem. I would never be ready to hear his poem, but I was trapped in this cab with him, and I didn’t want to make him angry.

“Reason I want to recite you the poem, on account of you’re the only poet I ever met, Porter. You don’t mind I call you Porter?”

“No, I don’t care,” I said.

“Or you prefer I call you Arnold. Didn’t you say that was your real first name?”

“Yes,” I said.

“So what you prefer?”

“I don’t care.”

“I’ll bet your ‘friends’ call you Arnold. The people who know you. Your buddies. Don’t they.” We were approaching another cross street, but this time at least the light was only yellow. “Arnold,” he said, and he drove past the street just as the light turned red. “How about I call you Arnold?”

“Sure,” I said. “Call me Arnold, but, look, excuse me, what’s your name?”



“Al. For Albert. But call me Al.”

“Al,” I said, “I think we just missed another turn.”

“Look, Arnold, I know what I’m doing up here, and nobody likes a back-seat driver. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said. “It just seems like we should be turning, and you keep forgetting to.”

“Oh, okay, you want me to turn?”

“Yes,” I said. “Just so we can get back to Bob’s –”

“– Bowery Bar, I know. And I’ll get you there. Now will you just relax and listen to my goddam poem?”

“Okay,” I said. “But here comes another cross street.”

“If I turn on this street will you just leave the driving to me?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Okay,” he said.

And, amazingly, he did make a left turn at the next corner, ignoring another red light, wheeling sharply but only bouncing me off the door a little bit.

“Happy now?” he said.

“Yes,” I said, lying.

“And now can I please recite you my goddam poem?”

“Okay,” I said.

By way of preamble he cleared his throat for a while, and then he lit his cigar stub with a wooden match and exhaled a great cloud of thick bitter smoke that all but filled the interior of the cab. Then he coughed a few times, and cleared his throat again. As he did all this, I couldn’t help but notice that he kept driving straight ahead, west as far as I could tell, going through red lights past one cross-street and then another one instead of making a left turn to start to take me back to where I wanted to go, to where he said he would take me, but I kept quiet about it. Somehow I knew that he wasn’t going to let me out at Bob’s Bowery Bar or anywhere else until I had heard his poem.

“I call this poem ‘The Song of the Lonely Cab Driver',” he said: “’or, a Ballad of the City Streets, in One Thousand and One Stanzas’.”

(Continued here, and onward, at the same stately pace.)

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Saturday, October 10, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 459: throbbing

On this hot rainy night in old Greenwich Village we left our hero Arnold Schnabel standing under the awning outside the entrance to a bar called Bill's with his new acquaintance, the mysterious and beautiful Beverly ..  

(Kindly click here to read our immediately previous chapter; those of a curious nature, morbid or otherwise, may go here to start at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 81-volume autobiography.)

“I have written and spoken often of the ‘many worlds of Arnold Schnabel’, but, more truthfully, should one rather not speak of Schnabel’s one single but infinitely various, infinitely rich universe – a universe, which, yes, includes (and, perforce, is included in) that which we so risibly like to call ‘the real world’?” – Harold Bloom, in the
Cosmopolitan Literary Supplement.

The hashish brownies.

Those spiked brownies I had so obliviously stuffed into my mouth in that strange house – but, wait, aren’t all houses strange? – very well, perhaps I should rather say: “that house even stranger than the average house of my acquaintance” which I had just escaped from.

How many of those brownies had I eaten? Five? Six? One thing I had to admit was that if I had been allowed to eat a dozen of them I would have done so, eagerly, so ravenous or perhaps I should just go ahead and say gluttonous had I been, despite their rather chewy texture compared to the kind my mother made. Now that I thought about it I could still feel the gummy residue of the brownies in the spaces between my back teeth, I could even still taste them, even after having drunk a shot of Carstairs and a pint of Rheingold, in fact I felt as if their essence was even now being absorbed through my taste buds, that essence which now suffused more strongly with each passing millisecond my entire physical corpus, including every cell in that living mass of spongey material pulsing against the inside walls of my skull, that essence which had filled me up the way that helium fills a balloon and which now caused me to hover in the air at least six inches above the concrete which somehow still pressed so solidly against the soles of my work shoes, those shoes and the feet within them which felt at a minimum thirty yards distant from my gently throbbing brain-hive of consciousness.

“Why do you look so funny all of a sudden,” said Beverly, her voice reverberating as if she were a woman in a movie and I was a patron sitting hunched down way in the back row.

I sighed, an action which felt like a great tidal wave of warm air rising up from somewhere deep in my stomach, from yet another unknown universe hidden in there, up through my chest and throat and softly out of my mouth.

I could see that Beverly was staring at me, her enormous face in close-up, and artfully lit with the dappled pale reflected glow of the streetlamp in that crashing rain, staring at me with what I could tell might actually be sincere concern.

“You’re not having a coronary, are you?” she said.

“No,” I managed to say, somehow working the word out of my mouth and into the air, and then, after breathing back in some of that same warm wet air, I garnered all the will I possessed and squeezed the following out: “I have a confession to make.”

“Oh,” she said. “So you did kill Billingsly. Well, that’s okay, Arnold. Don’t worry, I’ll help you. Do you need some cash, to go on the lam? I could go with you, if you want me to.”

She moved closer to me, and somewhere way down there I could feel the blood pouring like a river into my organ of ostensible procreation.

“Um –” I said, by way of preamble, but before I could get another word out she continued.

“Or,” she said, “do you think it might be better to stay in town and just hope they don’t pin the rap on you. However, even if the cops don’t pinch you, you still have to worry about Richie Ricciutto and his boys. If Richie finds out you killed Billingsly he’s going to want to know where that dough that Billingsly owed him is. Do you have that dough, Arnold? The hundred grand from the Golden Peacock caper?”

I took a breath, and then just waded in.

“Okay – Beverly,” I had had to make an effort to recall her name – “please pay attention because I’m not sure if I’ll be able to say this twice, or even once for that matter. So, and for what I hope is the last time: I didn’t kill Billingsly, and –”

“But,” she said –
“Beverly, please,” I said, I figured if I kept saying her name I might remember it – “let me finish, and then I’ll listen to any questions you have, and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability.”

“But everybody knows Billingsly –”

“Beverly,” I said, “please.”

“But,” she said.

“Please,” I said.

“Oh, okay, go on. But do be quick about it.”

“Okay,” I said. “Where was I.”

“You were claiming that you didn’t kill Billingsly.”

“Right,” I said. “I didn’t, and, as I said, I have no idea at all even who this ‘Billingsly’ is –”

“So you’re really sticking with this amnesia angle.”

“Right,” I said. “I mean, no, I don’t have amnesia.”

“Well, if you don’t have amnesia you’re sure as tootin’ acting like you have it.”

“Can I just continue, please?” I said.

“Sure,” she said. “Please do.”

“Okay,” I said.

I was wishing she wouldn’t stand so close to me, because of my growing erection, which was making it even harder for me to concentrate.

“But what about Richie Ricciutto,” she said. “Doesn’t it occur to you that ol’ Richie just might not buy this amnesia gag you’re laying down?”

“Okay,” I said. “Look –” it took me a second this time, a long second, to remember her name, but then it came to me – ”Beverly, I don’t know who this Richie Ricciutto is either. And, at the risk of sounding repetitive, until a few minutes ago I didn’t know who you were, or what’s his name in there –”

“’Slick’,” she said. “Seymour T. for Terence McGillicuddy, except everybody calls him Slick, which he is definitely not, the loser.”

“Right,” I said. “I didn’t know Slick either.”

“Well, of course you would say that,” she said. “I mean if you’ve really got amnesia, or did you forget that, too.”

“Please –” what was her name again? oh, right – “Beverly, just let me finish.”

“Okay, fine.”

“Here’s the thing,” I said. “I only entered this world a short while ago, by diving into a television screen.”

“Hold on, maniac –”

“You said you would let me finish.”

“Oh, right. Well, please, continue.”

“Okay, then –”

“One question though.”


“Is this supposed ‘explanation’ going to go on all night?”

“No,” I said. “It could, but I’ll give you just the essentials.”

“That’s good. Because if it was going to take all night I’d rather, like, get away from this entranceway here and go someplace more comfortable like.”

“It won’t take long,” I said. “Or at least I hope not. Can I continue now?”

“No one’s stopping you.”

“Okay.” I took a breath, but just a short one, because somehow I knew she was just about to interrupt me again. “Until just ten minutes ago, maybe less,” I said, speaking as quickly but as clearly as I could, which was hard, because each word seemed like a big wad of mashed potatoes in my mouth, ”I was in another universe, in this strange house with these strange people I had just met, and, anyway, I unknowingly ate some hashish brownies there –”


“I ate some hashish brownies.”

“Hash brownies.”

“Yes, but –”

“Okay. I get it now.”

“But you see I didn’t know they were hashish brownies. I thought they were regular brownies.”

“Did they taste regular?”

“They were a little chewy,” I said. “Anyway, after I realized I had eaten these hashish brownies, I knew I had to get away from these people.”


“They were just, I don’t know, really crazy.”

“They were crazy.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I know how that sounds, but it’s true. So I wanted to get away from them and get back to my friends.”

“Your friends.”

“Yes,” I said. “You see, I left them at this Bob’s Bowery Bar.”

“Your ‘friends’.”

“Yes,” I said. “I left them at the bar, and so I really wanted to get back to them before the hashish brownies kicked in.”

“So why didn’t you just get up and leave this ‘strange house’.”

“I tried to, but these people made it very difficult for me.”

“Who were they, anyway, these ‘strange people’?”

“It was a, uh, brother, and two sisters.”

“Oh. Two sisters. And were they attractive?”

“Well, yeah, but still –”

“And were they attracted to you I wonder?”

“Well, to be honest, they were all acting very, uh, sort of friendly towards me.”

“Uh-huh. Okay.”

“No, but, I really wanted to escape. You see, there was also this painting above the mantlepiece, of their great-grandfather, in a Civil War uniform, and I know it sounds weird, but he was talking to me.” 

“The painting was talking to you.” 

“Well, the man in the painting was. Their great-grandfather. He was, a, uh, colonel –”

“The man in the painting was a colonel. And he was talking to you.”


“Well, I know how that sounds too, but, look, anyway, I really wanted to get away, so there was a TV on, with a Dan Duryea movie on, and so finally I just got up, dove into the screen, and came out inside the bar here. Which is where I met Slick. And then you.”

She said nothing, she just looked at me, smoking her Pall Mall.

“Oh,” I said, “and that’s why maybe I’m acting a little weird now. Because I’m feeling the effects of those hashish brownies I ate.”

She paused, staring at me, and then she spoke.

“And how many of these hash brownies did you eat?”

“Let’s see,” I said. “Well, I ate three, and then these people I was with, the brother and the two sisters, they each ate one. And so there were two left. And then I ate them. So it was five I guess. Yes, five.”

“Only five?”

“Well, I think they were pretty strong,” I said.

“You think?” she said. 

“Yes,” I said. “In fact I don’t even know how I’m managing to talk right now. It feels almost as if someone else is talking, but somehow the words are leaving my mouth.”


“And I feel as if I’m as it were floating in the air, even though I can feel the soles of my feet pressing down through my shoes against the pavement.” 

“Can you feel this also?” she said.

And she put her hand on my now full-blown erection, throbbing like some frisky small animal against the material of my jeans.

“Yes,” I said. “I can feel that. And I apologize.”

“Oh, don’t apologize, Arnold. I find it flattering.” 

“Well, I’m glad,” I said, although I wasn’t, “but –” Barbara? No. Bertha? No. Oh, wait – “Beverly, I wish you would take your hand away.”


“Well, for one thing we’re out in public.”

“There’s no one out here.”

As it happened another car swished by in the rain just then, it was just a Ford sedan, blue, another early fifties model.

“A car just went by,” I said, lamely I know, and I knew it then.

“So what?” she said.

“Look,” I said. “I have a girlfriend.”

“You do!” she said. Finally she took her hand away, so that was good, although on the other hand she balled that hand into a fist, a raised fist. “Who is she? Tell me!”

“You wouldn’t know her,” I said. “She comes from another world.”

“What, like a Martian?”

“No,” I said. “She comes from what I like to think of as the ‘real world’.”

“Wow,” she said.

“So it’s nothing personal,” I said. “It’s just I already have this girlfriend. Back in my own world. I know it sounds –”

“I know, you know it sounds weird.”

“Yes,” I said.

“But what about this,” she said. And she put her hand on my aforementioned organ again, gripping it firmly through the material of my jeans. “This thing doesn’t seem too concerned with this alleged girlfriend from another universe.”

“I have no control over that, that thing,” I said.

“You may not,” she said. “But it appears that I do.”

“I must ask you to take your hand away,” I said.

“And I in my turn must ask you not to ask me that.”

And so we had reached an impasse, or, rather, I had reached an impasse, whereas it didn’t look as if anything could stop this woman from doing whatever she wanted to do.

I had no idea what to do, or I suppose I should say what to “try to do”, but – and maybe this was because I was in a fictional universe, where things happen in dramatic ways that they don’t in real life – a yellow Checker taxi pulled up splashing through the water streaming through the gutter and stopped at the curb right in front of us. The driver’s side was facing us, and the driver rolled down his window a few inches.

“Yez want a cab,” he yelled through the rain, and he seemed familiar, but maybe I had just seen him in the movies.

“Yes!” I found myself yelling. “One moment, please!”

Beverly gave my organ of annoyance another squeeze.

“Let’s go to my pad,” she said. “We’ll get you out of these wet things and into a hot tub, and I’ll break out some Old Sunny Brook and we’ll have ourselves a party. And everything – the coppers, Richie Ricciutto and his mob, all of them and the whole stinking world can go to hell. Right to hell, Arnold.”

I’ll admit it, I was tempted. But, somehow, good sense, or better sense, prevailed.

“I’m sorry, Beverly,” I said. “Please forgive me, but in another lifetime and in another universe things might have been different.”

I pulled her hand away, it wasn’t easy, like all the women I had been meeting lately she was very strong, and then I stepped past her, and, leaning forward awkwardly because of my erection I plunged down the steps into the rain, floated across the sidewalk to the cab, yanked open the passenger door, got in, and shut the door. Through the rain-streaming window I looked back at Beverly, standing there at the top of the steps under the awning, beautiful in her blue liquid-seeming dress. She made a twirling motion with her fingers, the burning end of the cigarette they held creating a small spinning wheel of glowing orange in the air, and I realized after only a few moments that she was signaling me to lower my window. I cranked it down a quarter of the way. Rain splashed in and against my face.

“Fuck you!” Beverly yelled, loudly, through the rain.

I rolled the window back up again. 

“Where to, Mac?” said the driver.

“Do you know where Bob’s Bowery Bar is?” I said.

“That dive? Sure,” he said.

“I’d like to go there,” I said.

(Continued here; God knows, and thank God, there’s plenty more where this came from.)

(Please scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a reasonably possibly current listing of links to all other available chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. By the way, we still have a few tickets left for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Fisher Park Hayride in the historic Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia. Remember, each ticket also includes the open bar and unlimited food at the Beef ‘n’ Beer Blast afterwards at the Green Parrot Tavern; vegetarian and vegan options will be available also for those not interested in the juicy roast beef sandwiches, not to mention roast pork and seven types of German sausages from Diener’s Butcher Shop on Fifth Street; musical entertainment of course provided by “Freddy Ayres & Ursula”, featuring “special guest” the lovely and talented “Magda” on the Hohner electric piano and vocals!)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 458: Beverly

Let’s rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel just where we left him, in yet another crowded smoky bar, meeting yet another mysterious and beautiful woman...  

(Please go here to read our preceding thrilling episode; if you feel you’re up to the commitment then you may click here to start at the very first chapter of this Gold View Award™-winning 71-volume autobiography.)

“Just as Arnold Schnabel has bequeathed us perhaps the premier masterwork of American literature, so also has he given us one of its greatest characters, from either the
soi-disant ‘real’ or ‘fictional’ realms, viz.: ‘Arnold Schnabel’.” – Harold Bloom, in the Gentlemen’s Quarterly Literary Quarterly.

“Beverly!” yelped Slick. “Howya doin’, baby?”

She gave him a look, and if I had to describe it, I would say it was a look of undisguised contempt.

“It’s great to see ya, Bev,” said Slick. 

“Shut the fuck up,” she said to him, and then she looked into my eyes. She gave my arm a squeeze. My arms were sore from people grabbing and squeezing them all day. But maybe it’s better to have people care enough to grab you; for the first forty-two years of my life no one ever grabbed me, and, let me tell you, those years were nothing to write home about.

“Aw, gee, Beverly,” said Slick. “Don’t go all bein’ like that –”

“I’ll be any way I damn well want to be,” she said.

She had a dress on that might have been green or it might have been blue or red, there was no way for me to tell because everything in this particular universe was in black and white. At any rate the material was shiny like silk and it seemed to pour down and around the curves of her body like some shiny thin liquid. I know that dress material can’t pour like a liquid, but that’s what it looked like to me.

“What are you doing with this clown?” she asked me.

“Clown?” said Slick. “Hey, that hurts, baby!”

“I’m not your baby,” she said to him.

“But, doll –”

“And I’m not your doll,” she said. “I’m nobody’s doll.”

“But, but –” he said.

“There’s only one reason I don’t thrash the living shit out of you, Slick,” she said.

“Only one,” he said, “heh heh?”

“Only one,” she said. “It’s that knowing you and what a slimeball you are you just might enjoy it if I thrashed the ever-living shit out of you.”

“Well, hey, Bev,” he said, and he had his smiling face on again. “Give it a try if it’ll make you feel better. Heh heh.”

She turned back to me.

“You’d better come with me, doll.”

She squeezed my arm, harder.

“But we was just gonna have a drink,” said Slick. “Wasn’t we, Bertolt?”

Arnold,” I said, firmly, for me, because “Bertolt” was just a bit too much even for me.

“Wasn’t we, ‘Arnold’?” he said.

“Well, you were,” I said.

“Okay, I was,” he said. “But you said you was gonna buy me a shot and a beer. You ain’t gonna go back on your word, are ya?”

“Oh my lord,” said the woman. She had a silvery sparkly purse in one hand, the one that wasn’t grabbing my arm, and she let go of my arm, opened the purse, and took out a crumpled five-dollar bill. She tossed it on the bar in front of Slick. “There. Drink up.”

“Wow,” he said, looking from the five to her and back and forth again. “A whole fin. You want some change I guess, right, Bev?”

“It’s all yours, sport,” she said, clicking the purse shut. “Go crazy.”

“Oh, man, you are too good to me, Bev! Let me kiss you!” He took a step forward, his arms spreading outward as in the opening stages of an embrace, but she raised her purse in a backhanded pre-thrashing gesture, and he stopped. “Okay!” he said, opening his palms outward in the time honored posture of human beings fearful of being dealt harm. “So forget the kiss! But, thanks, Bev, I really mean it –”

She turned back to me, put her arm in mine.

“Come with me,” she said.

Anyone who has read this far in these memoirs, if any such a one exists, will know by now that I am practically incapable of saying no to a woman, and this instance was no exception. Without either the woman or myself bothering to say another word to Slick, nor he to us, he was far too preoccupied waving and yelling at the bartender for another shot and beer, I allowed her to pull me along through the crowd across the barroom, to a door with an electric “EXIT” sign over it. When we got to the door I did the gentlemanly thing and opened it for her. Rain was crashing down outside, but there was an awning over the entranceway. She let go of my arm and went out, and I followed her, the shouting and laughter of drunken people and the ragtime music (if that’s what it was, I wouldn’t know) of the piano fading but not disappearing as the door closed itself behind us.

We stood there under the shallow awning. A few steps and a metal railing led down to a sidewalk, the rain clattering down and exploding onto it and on cars parked in a city street with what looked like closed shops and apartment buildings on the other side.

The woman turned and looked at me. A wavering watery light from a streetlamp reflected up from the sidewalk and onto her face.

“Fucking rain,” she said. “Désolée pour ma vulgarité.”

“That’s okay,” I said.

“So you’re not the priggish prude you used to be?”

“Not so much,” I said.

“That’s good. Because life’s too short.” I must have betrayed something by my expression, because she said: “What. That look. What.”

“Never mind,” I said.

“Fuck that. I ask a question I’d like an answer.”

“What you said about life.”

“What about it,” she said.

“Being short,” I said.


“My life has not seemed short lately,” I said. “It’s seemed really long.”

She looked at me, but said nothing, at least not right away.

She opened her sparkly purse, took out a polished pale metal cigarette case, clicked it open and offered its contents to me. 

“Pall Mall?”

Once again I was tempted. I hesitated, saying neither yes or no, raising my hand halfway to the cigarettes, but letting it hover there, moving just slightly up and down, up and down.

“A yes or no answer will do,” she said.

“No thanks,” I said, even though I wanted to say yes.

She took a cigarette for herself, clicked the case shut, tapped one end of the cigarette on its lid, then dropped the case into the purse and clicked it shut.

She stared at me again, waiting.

I started checking my pockets. In the pocket of my work shirt I felt the ballpoint pen I had acquired some time ago, with no little effort and with much annoyance and frustration. In the inside breast pocket of my seersucker jacket I felt what I realized must be Lucius Pierrepont St. Cloud III’s paperback book of poetry which I had forgotten all about, what was it, Songs from a Negro Slum Tenement? No matter, I doubted I would ever read it, not if I could help it, not that I had anything against poems about Negro slum tenements, it was more that I had something against reading any poems about anything. In my right jacket pocket was the revolver that Miss Lily had given me earlier that evening, although it felt like at least a year ago. I tried my left jacket pocket and the exterior breast pocket and all my jeans pockets, not forgetting the little change pocket, but no, a pack of matches or a lighter did not miraculously appear.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t seem to have a light.”

The blonde woman had waited through all this without comment if not patiently. She knew it was a man’s job to light a lady’s cigarette. Now that I had failed in this duty she put the cigarette between her lips, opened her purse again and took out a thin polished pale metal lighter. She held it out to me. She was really following the letter of the law as far as etiquette went. I took the lighter, and after only three or four tries I got her cigarette lit.

“Thanks,” she said.

She took the lighter back and dropped it back into her purse, but right before she clicked it shut I thought I caught a glimpse of a pistol in there, a small automatic it looked like. So we were both armed. I had no idea if it was a good thing or a bad thing that she was carrying a gun, but, knowing that she was carrying one, I was glad I had one too.

She exhaled smoke out of her nostrils, into my face.

“What the fuck is the matter with you, Arnold?” 

I didn’t quite know where to begin. A car drove by, making the hissing sound cars make on rainy streets. The car was a DeSoto, a maroon one, 1950 or 1951 if I wasn’t mistaken, and realizing it was maroon I realized that the world was in color again, and had been ever since we had stepped out of the bar. The woman was indeed a blonde, and her eyes I could see even in this dim light were a bright green. Her skin was pale, but at least it was not completely white. Her dress as it happened was a pale shade of blue.

“You’re not answering my question,” she said.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I got distracted. What was the question?”

“What the fuck is the matter with you? Why are you acting so strange? Is it because you killed Billingsly? Look, if you did I can help you. I hated Billingsly. I hated him and everything he stood for.”

“Can I just say something here?” I said.

“Of course.”

“I didn’t kill Billingsly. And I have no idea who Billingsly is.”

“Was,” she said.

“I have no idea who Billingsly was,” I said, “and I’m very sorry, but you seem to have the, uh, advantage of me, because I’m afraid I don’t know who you are.”

She stared at me for a minute, taking a slow drag on her cigarette, and then allowing the smoke to stream slowly but steadily out of her nostrils and into my face, again, which to tell the truth I didn’t mind, in fact I liked it, it was almost as good as smoking a Pall Mall myself. When the minute was up she spoke.

“Two possibilities as I see it, no, make that three. Possibility one: you’re fucking with me. Are you fucking with me, Arnold?”

“I assure you, I’m not, uh –”

I couldn’t bring myself to say it. Despite what I had said just a little bit earlier, I was still apparently a bit of a prig.

“Okay,” she said. “Possibility number two: you’ve gone insane. Have you gone insane?”

“That is a possibility,” I said. “I admit it.”

“Right,” she said. “So we’ll set that one aside for the nonce and move on to possibility number three, which is what I’m leaning toward actually, on account of those bruises on your face and that black eye: to wit, you are suffering from amnesia, possibly as a result of what our copper friends like to call blunt force trauma. Is that it?”

“Well,” I said, “if that were the case, wouldn’t I be the wrong person to ask? Because if I had amnesia I might not be able to remember if I had amnesia.”

“Don’t get smart with me, Arnold. This is me, Beverly. Come on, honey boy, you remember me, don’t you?”

“Um –”

“The good times we used to have.”

“Uh –”

She touched my face. I saw that her fingernails were painted red. It matched the color of her lipstick.

“Say my name,” she said.

“Beverly was it?”

“Yes,” she said. “See, you got it first try. Do you remember now?”


“Everything. That ride on the Ferris wheel. What you said to me. What I said to you.”

“Uh, no,” I said. “Sorry, uh –”

“Sorry what?”

“Beverly, right?”

“Good. Say it again.”


“Great. Now without the question mark.”


“Do you think you can remember it now?”

“I’ll try,” I said.

“Say it again.”
“Beverly?” I said.

“That’s swell. This is a start. Amnesia is nothing to be ashamed of, Arnold. It’s quite common. Like polio, or TB. You go to the movies. You listen to radio and TV shows. You read murder magazines and paperback novels. There is nothing more common than some poor guy or gal stricken with amnesia. And trapped in a web of betrayal. And violence.”

She paused here. She was standing very close to me. It was much less hot out here than it had been in the bar, but I could feel the warmth of her body, and, I am ashamed to admit it, I began to feel those first faint stirrings of yet another erection.

“Are you sure you didn’t kill Billingsly?” she said, suddenly.

The question bounced around inside my head, and when it stopped bouncing I spoke.

“Yes,” I said.

“Yes you’re sure you didn’t kill him or yes you did kill him.”

“Yes, I’m sure I didn’t kill him.”

“So what you’re saying is that you have no recollection of having killed him.”

“Um,” I said.

“But,” she said, “if you have amnesia maybe you did kill him but you can’t remember killing him. Oh my God.”


“Maybe, just maybe, it was the psychological trauma of killing Billingsly that caused your amnesia. Did you ever think of that?”

“No,” I said.

“Of course you didn’t. Because you have blocked out everything to do with Billingsly. Just as you blocked me out. And that’s what hurts, Arnold. That you blocked me out. Billingsly, however, was scum. And he deserved to die!”

“But I didn’t kill him.”

“So you say.”

“Beverly, may I ask you a question?”

“Sure, Arnold. I imagine with amnesia you might have lots of questions.”

“Okay,” I said. “My question is just – and please don’t tell me we’re nowhere – where are we?”

“We’re here, Arnold darling. Together. You and me. And that’s all that matters.”

“Well, okay,” I said. “But what I meant was, where exactly geographically are we.”

“Standing outside Bill’s Bar, where the hell did you think we were?”

“Okay,” I said. “But what city are we in?”

“Wow, you really do have amnesia.”

“Please tell me,” I said.

“New York City!” she said. “You big weirdo.”

“Oh, thank God. Thank God,” I repeated.

“Don’t get carried away, Arnold. This town ain’t all that great. It’ll chew you up and spit you out. Then it’ll chew you up again, like a dog that eats its own vomit. Then it’ll do it all over again.”

“But still,” I said. “Can you tell me more particularly where we are, like in what neighborhood?”

“The Village.”

“Like Greenwich Village?”

“What other village is there? We’re standing right on Bleecker Street, you nut.”

“Oh – thank Christ,” I said. I had almost said, “Thank Josh.”

“Listen,” I said, “can I ask you just one more question?”

“By all means,” she said. “I can tell this Q&A is somewhat – how shall I put it – therapeutic for you?”

“Do you happen to know of a bar called Bob’s Bowery Bar? I think it’s at –”

“Bleecker and the Bowery.”

“Yes!” I almost yelled.

“That dive, sure I know it.”

“Is it far?”

“Is it far? It’s just a few blocks away.”

I wanted to fall down on my knees and thank the heavens, thank God, and his son, and the holy ghost, thank anyone who would take my thanks, but I chose the path of dignity.

I took a deep breath.

“Do you think we could go there?” I said, trying to sound more or less not insane.

“You want to go to Bob’s Bowery Bar. Where it smells like piss and cheap whiskey and stale beer and decaying bad poets who don’t know enough to fall over when they’re dead.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You poor damned fool,” she said.

“I know,” I said.

Suddenly I had the distinct impression that I was floating, even though I could feel my feet in their wet socks in my damp work shoes pressing down against the hard concrete beneath them. 

And then I remembered.

The brownies.

(Continued here, and down streets and alleys and worlds yet unknown.)

(Kindly look to the right-hand column of this page to find a quite possibly accurate listing of links to all other officially published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©; tickets are now available for the Arnold Schnabel Society’s Annual Fisher Park Hayride in Arnold’s old neighborhood of Olney, Philadelphia. Ticket price includes Beef ‘n’ Beer Blast afterwards at the Green Parrot Tavern, musical entertainment provided by Freddy Ayres & Ursula, featuring Magda on the Hohner electric piano and vocals!)