Saturday, December 19, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 468: big boy

Let’s return to a certain hot and rainy night in 1957 and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the crowded, smoky and bacchanalian confines of Bob’s Bowery Bar…

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; potential completists may click here to return to the very first chapter of this 57-volume Gold View Award™-winning masterpiece.)

“What other work of autobiographical literature features in its cast of characters not only the son of God, but also the prince of darkness, the holy ghost, and, yes, even a guardian angel by the name of ‘Bowery Bert’?” – Harold Bloom, in
The Arnold Schnabel Society’s Quarterly Review.

“Okay,” I said. “And what exactly is it you think I should do, Bert?”

“You really want me to tell you what you should do?” he said, with a slight smile that one of the authors of the cheap paperbacks I like to read might describe as “roguish”.

“Yes,” I said. “That I think pretty well sums up or rephrases if not exactly repeats what I have just said, yes.”

I don’t know why I was talking in this elaborate way all of a sudden. Could it be that I was at last surrendering to, or had been conquered by, this world of cheap fiction in which I had been trapped for so long?

“Okay, then,” he said, after taking a “meditative” series of puffs on his Parodi or Di Nobili. “I’ll tell you what you should do.”

I waited, but apparently he hadn’t quite yet milked the moment for all it was worth, to him anyway, oh no, not yet. I stood there sweating into my clothes amidst all these drunken staggering people shouting and laughing and thrashing around to the jukebox music, while Bert just leaned sort of raffishly on his umbrella, smoking his cigar. Every once in a while he nodded his head, as if agreeing with himself about something. He was mostly staring up at me in this very serious-looking way, with those grey eyes so monstrously magnified behind the thick lenses of his glasses, but sometimes he looked around, out at the crowd of drunks, even bending his head to the side to look past me, no doubt at the boogalooing Emily. One minute passed, and then another. I really wanted not to give him the satisfaction of hearing me ask him yet again to please say what was on his mind, but then it occurred to me that the concept of time probably meant nothing to him, being an angel and immortal, and possibly he would be quite willing to stand here all night waiting for me to egg him along some more, and so at last I broke down and spoke:

“Please,” I said, “Bert, just tell me what I should do.”

“You really want to know.”

“Yes,” I said, stifling a sigh with all my might. “I really want to know, now will you please just tell me.”

“Don’t get all hot under the collar.”

“In fact,” I said, “I am quite literally hot under the collar. I’m sweating like a pig, and I wish you would just tell me whatever it is you have to tell me.”


“Tell me, damn it.”

“Look, do I have to remind you about the language?”

“Apparently yes. Now tell me.”


“Bert, if you don’t stop torturing me I’m going to –”


Now it was me who paused.

“Nothing,” I said. “I have no other recourse.”

“Well, I’m glad you realize that.”

“Yes,” I said. “I fully realize that, and so now please tell me what it is you would have me do.”

If you’re man enough to do it.”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “And I realize that might be a big ‘if’. Now what is it?”

“You’re right it’s a big ‘if’. To tell the truth, and please don’t take this the wrong way, I’m not entirely sure you are man enough.”

I did an odd thing at this juncture, odd for me, anyway. I suppose I really was changing, if not into a more fictional sort of character, then at least less of a passive one. But what I did was I put one hand each on Bert’s upper arms and lifted him up, so that he was face to face with me, his feet dangling a foot above the floor. I held him there, at arm’s length. He must have weighed only ninety pounds, if that, and I was so filled with the strength of despair that I felt as if I could hold him up there easily for an hour. He had his cigar in his mouth, and his eyes seemed bigger than ever, like they were pushing his glasses away from his face.

“What the fuck?” he said.

“I swear, Bert,” I said, “if you don’t tell me what’s on your mind, I’m going to –”

He was making little treading movements with his legs.

“Lemme down, you scoundrel,” he said, talking around his cigar.

“Not until you tell me what you want me to do.”

“I’ll tell you if you let me down.”

I sighed. My moment of fury had passed, and I lowered him back down.

“Christ,” he said. He took a good puff on his cigar, then took it out of his mouth and tapped the ash with his finger, the ash tumbling down onto my work shoes, again.

He looked up at me.

“You calmed down now?”

“Yes,” I said, not entirely truthfully.

“Okay, then,” he said. “I’ll tell you what you should do. I mean if you really want to hear it.”

Quite involuntarily I raised my right hand and made a fist with it. Bert flinched, and then quickly continued.

“What I want you to do is to march right over to Edith over there –”

“Emily,” I said. “Her name is Emily.”

“Emily then. I’m sorry. Y’know, go ahead and sue me if you want to but after about a couple of dozen centuries or so in my job you start to get the names of human beings just a little mixed up now and then.”

“Fine,” I said. “So you’re saying I should march over to Emily?”

“Yeah, that’s right. March right up to her, say hello, and then what I want you to do is to apologize to her.”

“Apologize to her? For what?”

“You must have done something that got her upset.”

“I didn’t do anything to her.”

“You said you had sex with her, didn’t you?”

“Well, my character did.”

“In other words, you did.”

“So you want me to apologize for having sex with her?”

“No, that will make her even more mad. Just apologize.”

“Apologize for doing nothing?”

“You must have done something. Why else would she have knocked you out with her purse?”

“Because she’s insane?”

“That’s quite possible, and all the more reason why you should apologize, and as sincerely-seeming as you can pretend.”

“Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“Well, no, it’s probably a really stupid idea, but since you’re in the world of a stupid novel, then you might as well do something stupid.”

“I think I’d rather do something smart.”

“Okay, look, your character in this fictional universe, the poet, what’s his name?”

“Porter Walker.”

“'Porter Walker', okay – now is this character smart or stupid?”


“Then you should do something stupid. Just as long as it’s dramatic and moves the plot along, the stupider the better. Go on, go apologize to the silly twit.”

“I just don’t see anything good coming out of doing that.”

“Arnold, look, do you think they teach us nothing in guardian angel school?”

“There’s a guardian angel school?”

“Of course there is. Not so much a school, but a sort of boot camp if you will. And graduating is not easy, believe you me. You got to pass every single course at least with a C and you got to keep taking the courses over and over again until you do pass them. Some angels it takes a hundred earth years. Some of them a thousand years, or more.”

“How many years did it take you?”

“What difference does it make how long it took me? All you got to know is that I did graduate, finally.”


“Yeah. I’m not gonna say I breezed through the school passing every single course the first time I took them, but, you know –”

“Yeah, but how long exactly did it take you?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“I’m just curious. I think you might appreciate that. I mean if it took you a thousand years I might have to bear that in mind before taking your advice.”

“It wasn’t a thousand years.”

“That’s not very reassuring.”

“If you must know it took me more than a hundred years to graduate but quite a bit less than a thousand.”

“More than a hundred years?” I said.

“Whatever,” he said. “Point is, I graduated, and I got the diploma to prove it. So quit your stalling, turn around, get the hell over to her to what’s her name – Edna –”


“'Emily' – say ‘excuse me’, and – oh, wait, first say excuse me to the big stud, James is it?”


“Him. Say ‘excuse me’ to him for butting in, because you want to be a gentleman, you want to take the high road. And then ask him if he would mind if you had just a quick word with Enid –”


“Emily, whatever, and what you do then is, you gently take her aside, and then without pussyfooting around, just flat out apologize to her.”

“And then what?”

“And then hope she doesn’t hit you with her purse again.”

“I don’t know, Bert,” I said.

“You don’t know what?”

“I don’t know if this is such a great idea.”

“Of course you don’t know. But that’s why you have me. Here –” He stuck his cigar in his mouth, reached into his suit coat and took out his flask again. Hooking his umbrella over his arm, he unscrewed the cap. “Take another shot of Windsor Canadian first,” he said. “A little Dutch courage never hurt anybody. Go on, take a good hit. There’s plenty left. You see, this flask is kind of like my cigar, which as you might have noticed has not burnt down even a fraction of an inch this whole time you have known me. Yes, this is a very special flask supplied only to guardian angels upon our graduation from guardian angel school – the so-called 'bottomless whiskey flask', which, believe you me, comes in handy when you’re dealing with human beings all day and night for a living. So, please, be my guest. My perquisite is your perquisite. So long as you do what I tell you and don’t fuck up.”

I started to take the flask, but then – and here I really was acting like a different character than the one I was used to playing – I lowered my hand.

“Hey, you know what, Bert,” I said. “I think I’m good actually.”

“Really?” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Believe it or not.”

“Okay, then,” he said, and he took the flask. “You mind if I have one?”

“No, please,” I said. “Go right ahead.”

Without a second’s pause he lifted the flask to his lips and took a couple of good gulps. He sighed, nodded his head in an approving sort of way, screwed the cap back on, put the flask away.

“All right,” he said. “Go do it. Walk over and apologize to her, but make it quick. I mean, make it sound sincere, but then act like you don’t want to, you know, impinge on her precious time, then come back and get me and we’ll go meet Jesus.”


“Sorry – ‘Josh’.”

“Well, okay,” I said.


“All right.”

I took a deep breath, then turned around. Julian and Emily were dancing not three feet away from me. Both of them were obviously completely plastered now. I had no idea what time it was, but I doubted that either of them were going to make it to the office in the morning, and probably not in the afternoon, either.

They were dancing in a fashion that might be called “Negro”, or at least white people’s awkward simulation of Negro dancing. They were both pumping their arms in the air, undeterred by the fact that Julian held his briefcase in one hand, or it might have been Emily’s briefcase, while Emily swung her hard black purse around by its strap. I took two steps toward them, and said, croaked, yelled:

“Um, hello!”

They both stopped in mid-gyration, turned and stared at me.

“Porter!” said Julian, because that was my fictional character’s name.

“Porter!” said Emily.

“Julian,” I said, “I wonder if I might just speak to Emily for just a moment.”

“Sure, old buddy,” he said, his sweaty face was smiling broadly, and he clapped me on the shoulder. “Take as much time as you need. I’ll be at the bar.”

“Oh, but I’ll only need a second,” I said.

“Take two seconds,” he said, smiling even more broadly, and without another word he turned and strode off through the crowd in the direction of the bar.

“What is it, Porter?” said Emily. She was glistening with perspiration, and the carefully sprayed dark helmet that had once been her hairstyle now looked as if several buckets of water had been dumped over it. “You’re not mad at me for knocking you out with my purse, are ya?”

She had lapsed into some sort of southern accent, maybe it was in fact her native way of speaking.

“I’m not mad at you,” I said. “In fact, Emily, I want to apologize to you.”

“You do?”


“What for?”

“Oh, just – you know –”

“Yes, sweetheart, I do know.” She put her hand on my tie and gave it a tug. “How I know. But how manly of you to be a man about it and come right out and apologize. Like a real man. Not like that big old faggot Julian.”

“Well, uh, that’s all I wanted to say, Emily,” I said. “I’ll let you get back to your, uh, dancing now.”

She pulled on my tie, pulling me closer to her.

“Fuck my dancing.”


“You heard me, stud. Fuck my dancing.”

“Heh heh.”

She let go of my tie, but now she ran her fingers along the stubble on my chin.

“Take me up to your apartment,” she said.

“My, uh, apartment?”

“Yeah, take me up there. Right now.”

“But what about Julian?”

“To hell with Julian.”

“But –”

“No buts.”

“But you see I’m with a friend.”

“Where is she, I’ll scratch the bitch’s eyes out.”

“It’s not a she. It’s a man.”

“A man? What man?”

I turned and pointed at Bert, standing there just a few feet away, smiling and nodding his head. He raised his hand and gave a little wave.

“That little old fella is your friend?” said Emily.

“Sort of,” I said.

She stuck her arm in mine and pulled me over to where Bert was.

“Hey, granddad,” she said, “I’m just gonna borrow your young friend here for a spell. You mind?”

“Oh, well, uh, heh heh,” he said.

“Thanks, pops,” she said, and she dragged me past him, towards the door.

I twisted around and looked back at Bowery Bert.

He shrugged, with a grin a paperback novelist would almost certainly describe as “sheepish”.

Emily gave my arm a good yank. As I think I have mentioned, perhaps a thousand pages ago, she was a small woman, but nevertheless she seemed to have the strength of a vigorous young male practitioner of Charles Atlas’s dynamic tension program.

“Come on, big boy,” she said, and she continued to pull me along towards the front door.
So much for Bert’s guardian angel school.

(Continued here.)

(Illustration by Ernest "Darcy" Chiriaka. Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a quite frequently current listing of links to all other officially-released chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. We still have a limited supply of Railroad Train to Heaven Action Figures™ available for the gift-giving season, so order now – kids just love ‘em!)

Saturday, December 12, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 467: sweat

Let us return to a certain hot and rainy night in old Manhattan and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his new guardian angel “Bowery Bert”,  just as they are about to enter that fabled watering-hole Bob’s Bowery Bar…

(Kindly click here to read our immediately preceding chapter; go here if for your own good reasons you wish to return to the very beginning of this 71-volume Gold View Award™-winning memoir.)

“First came Marcel Proust, and then, hard on the glorious Parisian’s heels, that magisterial Dubliner James Joyce, but it wasn’t until some several decades later that the Divine Trinity of 20th century literature became complete, when a modest Philadelphian named Arnold Schnabel somewhat tentatively began to write his towering
chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, from the Introduction to his Railroad Train to Heaven: an Abridged Version for Younger Readers (Olney Community College Press).

I stepped inside, and once again I was in that world I knew all too well, Bar World, and my new guardian angel was right there with me, in fact he had even hooked his arm into my left arm, whether out of camaraderie or merely to make sure I didn’t escape him, well, that’s not for me to say.

The wind slammed the door shut behind us, and despite the torrential rain outside, or who knows, maybe because of it, the bar was even more packed with shouting and laughing drunks than when I had just previously been in here – what, when was it, an hour ago, forty-five minutes? It felt like five months, but I knew that couldn’t be right.

The jukebox blared with saxophone music, and the sticky hot air churned with tobacco smoke and the odors of beer and whiskey and gin and of sweating unwashed bodies, with acrid swirling notes of colognes and perfumes which I could only assume were of the cheapest brands, not that I would know the difference if they weren’t – in other words everything was as before, but more so. I knew from bitter experience there was nothing to do but breathe deep, breathe it all in so that you got used to it, and I must admit that after more than twenty years of wasting my precious time in bars it never took me too long to get used to it.

And I was doing that, breathing in the hot thick humid stench of it all and preparing myself for my next move when Bert yanked on my arm, pulling my torso and the head on top of it closer to his eager face with those eyes so hideously magnified by his glasses.

“Where is he?” he yelled, over the saxophone music that was blaring from the jukebox and the shouting and laughing of all the drunkards in this place. “Where is Jesus?”

“Josh you mean,” I shouted back down to him. “Remember, he likes to be called Josh now.”

“Yes, quite – Josh,” said Bert. “Pardon me. I shall remember that.”

(Actually I didn’t care in the least what he called Josh, and I was pretty sure Josh wouldn’t care either; I think I was just having a little wicked fun with my new guardian angel, but that was his fault for being so annoying.)

“Anyway,” I said, yelled, “he was over there –” I jerked a thumb to the right, “in a booth.”

From where we were standing just inside the door I couldn’t actually see the booth in question – a couple of other booths came first, and there were people staggering and dancing all around us.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” said Bert. “Let’s go, sonny Jim!”

“Okay,” I said, and with Bert still hanging onto my arm I began to work my way through the alcoholics between where we had been standing and the booth in question. I had no plan beyond getting to the booth, and anyway, by this point I had become fully cognizant of the flimsiness of all human plans. I continued doing what I did because I didn’t know what else to do. And, anyway, sure enough, my plan was foiled almost immediately, as who should I see dancing furiously in that mob not six feet away but my old nemesis Emily. I then also saw that she was dancing with – or at least dancing in the near vicinity of – my publisher, or at least my alter ego’s publisher, Julian Smythe.

I stopped, and turned around, so that my back was towards Emily and Julian, and as Bert still had his arm in mind, I perforce turned him around also.

“Hey, what gives?” he said. He’d had his cigar in his mouth but now he took it out. “You trying to dance the black bottom with me? Well, I’ll tell you right now, buddy, Bowery Bert don’t roll that way!”

Without ceremony I pulled him further around so that he was facing me, or facing upward at me, what with him being almost a foot shorter than me. I freed the arm he had been holding onto and, bending forward, I cupped my hand to the side of my mouth.

“I’m not trying to dance with you,” I stage-whispered, into his tiny ear, which was shriveled and grey like a dead growth of fungus on an old tree. “I just saw someone I don’t want to see.”


“It’s this girl, her name’s Emily.”

“Ah ha! Cherchez la femme!” he yelled, pronouncing the word like “fem”. “You dog, you! Who is she, one of your doxies?”

“No,” I said. “She’s the heroine of a novel in the fictional world we’re in.”

“Okay,” he said. “I can, as you young people say, ‘dig’ that. So what?”

“Well, you see, in this novel, well, I guess I did have a sort of affair with her –”

“Ha! I knew it! How was she?”

“Look, Bert, I really don’t want to talk about any of that sort of thing –”


“I don’t even remember what she was like, anyway, because I got into the novel after all that happened.”

Bert took a puff on his cigar, and needless to say, blew the smoke up into my face.

“Y’know,” he said, “I’m not so sure I even want to try to understand what you’re talking about.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “To be honest I really don’t care if you understand it either.”

“Good, so neither of us cares.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Great. Fabulous.”

“Okay, don’t get upset.”

“I’m not upset.”

“You look upset.”

“Okay, I am upset. But it’s just because I don’t want to see this girl.”

“Is she that bad?”

“Yes,” I said. 

“Wow. Now I want to meet her.”

“Well, you can meet her if you want to,” I said. “But I intend to avoid her like the plague. So, you know –”

“Hey, you’re not getting rid of me that easy, pal. I’m your guardian angel and I’m sticking with you. Which one is she, anyway?”

“The really drunk-looking one –”

“They’re all drunk-looking.”

“I meant to say,” I said, “before you interrupted me, the drunk-looking one with the tousled dark hair in the wrinkled grey suit, dancing with the tall guy in the dark suit who looks kind of like Rock Hudson.”

“Okay,” said Bert, peeking around my waist to my right. “I see her, and him. She ain’t bad. A little thin for my taste, but I wouldn’t kick her out of the sack. Who’s the stud?”

“He’s my publisher, Julian Smythe.”

“You have a publisher?”

“I don’t, but the fictional character whose body I currently inhabit does.”

“And who, pray tell, is this 'fictional character', if I may be so bold as to ask?”

“His name is Porter Walker.”

“So you’re telling me that in this particular, uh, reality, you are this ‘Porter Walker’?”


”And so your character I take it is a writer of some sort – like what, oh – no – not a poet?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

“Lyric poet?”


“Any good?”


“I didn’t think so,” he said. “I mean, no offense, but you just don’t strike me as the next Longfellow.”

“I don’t know what to do,” I said.

“You’re that afraid of some drunk girl?”

“The last time we met she knocked me out.”

“Is that how you got that shiner?”

“I guess so,” I said. I touched the area below my left eye. I had forgotten about the black eye, but obviously it had not miraculously healed.

Bert leaned to my left this time and took another peek behind me.

“She don’t look like she packs much of a punch.”

“She hit me with her purse,” I explained, “and she had a big jar of Pond’s cold cream in it.”

“Ha ha, beautiful! I like a woman with spirit!”

“Is she still there?”

“Oh, yeah, she’s there, all right, and it looks like she’s boogalooing closer, too.”

“Damn,” I said. “Damn. Damn it.”

“Hey, buddy, that kind of language doesn’t help.”


“You should say ‘Darn’ if you must say something. Or even better, ‘Gee’.

“So is this what you do as a guardian angel? Tell people to watch their language?”

“And is this what you do as a human being? Tell guardian angels how to do their fucking job?”

“Look,” I said, “there, you just cursed.”

“Fuck is not a curse. It’s a crude word but it’s not a curse word.”

“Well, how come you can say f–”

“Don’t say it.”

“Okay,” I said. “But how come you get to say the F-word and I can’t even say ‘damn’?”

“I told you not to say that word.”

“Fine,” I said. “Then how come you get to say the F-word and I can’t even say the D-word.”

“Because,” he said, “I am an angel. And you are only a human being. And before you start complaining let me say I don’t make the rules. Now come on, let’s shake a leg. I want to meet Jesus, or Josh, or whatever he’s calling himself these days.”

“But if I turn around she’ll see me.”

“This what, Edie is it?”


“You’re that afraid of her.”

“You’d be afraid too if she knocked you out with her purse.”

“Okay, Arnie, now bend down closer to me because I’m going to tell you something.”

“I can hear you okay from where I am,” I said.

“Good. Because I want you to listen to me and listen tight.”

“Okay,” I said.

“And stop darting your eyes around while I’m talking to you.”

“Look,” I said, “Bert – and it’s okay I call you Bert, right?”

“I thought we had already established that.”

“Okay, then,” I said. “Bert. Will you please just tell me what you have to say and be done with it.”

“Telling me my job again.”

“Okay,” I said. “Don’t tell me what you were going to say. I don’t care.”

“What I was going to say,” he said, “before you got so fucking weird – is that as your guardian angel I am advising you to stop being such a pussy, afraid of some little female, and turn around and lead us to your friend Josh. That is what I am advising you, in my capacity as your guardian angel. And, believe me, I have been doing this job a long time. Now let’s move.”

“If we wait she may go to the other side of the bar, where she might not see me.”

“You’re grasping at straws now.”

“But you don’t know her.”

“I think she sounds fascinating.”

“She’s not. She’s really boring.”

“Maybe you just need to get to know her better.”

“I don’t want to get to know her better. And anyway, she’s a character in a novel.”

“Well, so are you, that is if I’m following you correctly.”

“But this is not the real me. I’m only stuck in this body.”

“That’s what every human being ever since Adam and Eve has said.”

“Look, you’re supposed to be my guardian angel –”

“Not supposed to be. I am.”

“Then help me.”

“Oh, all right, don’t worry, I’ll help you.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome.”

He seemed so smug, but I resisted the urge to pick him up and toss him into the middle of that mob of dancing people. I might mention here that for the hundredth time that day I was now streaming with sweat, and so now my clothes, which were already damp from the rain, were now becoming soaked from the inside as well. Bert on the other hand looked as cool and dry as a mummy in his grey suit and cloth cap, but then, as he had reminded me me more than once already, he was an angel, not a human being. Could it be that he actually might be able to help me? I decided to swallow my pride, at least for the time being.

“What should I do?” I said.

“Okay,” said Bert. “You’re a character in a novel, right?”

“No, more accurately put, I am trapped in the corporeal form of a character in a novel.”

“In other words, you’re a character in a novel.”

“Okay, fine, I’m a character in a novel.”

“Great. So act like a character in a novel.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean do something stupid,” he said. He took another puff on his cigar. A funny thing about that cigar, no matter how much he smoked it, it always stayed the same length.

“You’re telling me to do something stupid,” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “Somehow I don’t think that will be hard for you. Somehow I don’t think that will be hard for you at all.”

I had to admit that he was right.

(Continued here.)

(Please look to the right-hand column of this page to find an ostensibly current listing of links to all other published chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. The holidays are almost upon us, so why not give your friends and family the most precious gift of all, a great book – and click here to order the new paperback edition of our friend Kathleen Maher’s magical novel Diary of a Heretic!)

Friday, December 4, 2015

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 466: a saint

Let us return to a certain rainy summer’s night in old New York City and rejoin our hero Arnold Schnabel and his new guardian angel “Bowery Bert”, here outside the entrance of that fabled caravanserai Bob’s Bowery Bar...

(Please go here to read our previous thrilling episode; click here to return to the very beginning of this 69-volume Gold View Award™-winning

“Yes – brrr – December has arrived, and what better way to pass a chilly and snowy evening than to sit in one’s favorite old rocker by a roaring fire, with a thick afghan over one’s legs, a cup of steaming hot cocoa prepared with Fox’s U-bet™ chocolate syrup, and a volume of Arnold Schnabel’s magnificent chef-d'œuvre, now available for a laughably modest fee on your Kindle™.” – Harold Bloom, host of Fox’s U-bet Presents ‘The Arnold Schnabel Hour’, exclusively on the Dumont Radio Network, Sundays at 4 pm (EST).

“You have to understand that he has been through a lot,” said Bert.

“Sure,” I said.

He had been talking with his cigar in his teeth, but now he took it between his thumb and forefinger and tapped it with his middle finger, causing the ash to tumble down onto my shoes again, not that I cared, again.

“Poor fellow’s probably been through more than anyone,” he said, “anywhere, in any time.”

I glanced away, out at the rain and the street, looking away from those dark grey eyes of Bert’s, so hideously magnified by the thick lenses of his glasses.

“What?” he said.

I’ve never been good at hiding what I’m thinking, if anything. And there didn’t seem to be much that got by old Bert.

“Um,” I mumbled.

“You disagree then?” he said.

“Well, not exactly,” I said.

“Then inexactly. What.”

“Well, you’re forgetting his father,” I said. “And the holy ghost.”

“What about them?”

“Well, they must have been through a lot, too,” I said. “I mean, as much as Josh –”

“Jesus you mean.”

“Yes, sorry, I’m used to thinking of him as ‘Josh’.”

“Okay, ‘Josh’ then. But here’s the thing, Arnold, if you knew your catechism like the Roman Catholic you claim to be then you’d know that when I say ‘the son of God’ – or, ‘Josh’ as you call him –”

“He tells me to call him Josh.”

“Please don’t interrupt.”


“I hate that. You humans always think you have something to say. And you just can’t wait to say it. As if anyone cares.”


“Okay, then. Apology accepted. Now, where was I?”

“Something about Josh,” I said.

“Oh, right. When I say – okay, I guess I may as well say it if that’s what he wants to be called – when I say ‘Josh’ I also mean God the father and the holy ghost. Because they are three indivisible persons making up one God, the holy whatever –”

“Trinity,” I said.

“Yeah, exactly, the trinity. They’re all really just one God.”

“Right,” I said. “I forgot about that.” 

Not that I had ever thought too much about the concept of the trinity. It had only been just one of the millions of concepts I couldn’t understand and couldn’t be bothered to try to understand.

“However,” said Bert, “irregardless, you have to be impressed by Jesus – or 'Josh' if you will – going through that awful scourging and the crown of thorns and the crucifixion and all. That couldn’t have been any picnic. You didn’t see his father getting nailed to any cross in the hot sun, nor for that matter the holy ghost.”

I suppose my face gave me away again, another furtive glance out at the downpour that continued to drench the Bowery.

“Now what?” he said.

“It’s just that I met the holy ghost tonight,” I said.

“You what?”

“I met the holy ghost. Except he went by the name of ‘H.G.’”

“Please don’t fuck with me, Arnold. In case you didn’t know it, I am not a good guy to fuck with. I know I’m old, I know I’m small and frail-looking, but do not fuck with me.”

“But –”

“What I mean is, like, fuck with me at your peril.”

“But –”

“You’ve been warned.”

“But I really did meet him,” I said.

He took a drag on his Parodi or De Nobili, blew the smoke up into my face again.

“For real?” he said.

“Well, apparently,” I said, coughing only a little bit. “I mean, Josh said he was the holy ghost, so –”

“Wow,” said Bert. “And what was he like?”

“So you never met him either?” I said.

“No. If I had ever met him then I wouldn’t have to ask you what he was like, now would I?”

“Sorry,” I said.

“If you stopped saying asinine things you wouldn’t have to say you’re sorry all the time.”

“That’s a good point.”

“So what was he like?”

To keep my guardian angel happy, or at least possibly less unpleasant, I made an effort to remember. It had only been earlier that night, but it felt like two and a half years ago.

“Well,” I said. “He was a little guy of about fifty or so –”

“Little guy – like me, huh?”

“Maybe a couple of inches taller.”

“As befits one of his divine stature.”

“He wore a derby.”

“A derby! A gentleman of the old school!”

“He was nicely dressed,” I said. “A three-piece suit.”

“What color?”

“Sort of like yours,” I said.

“Like mine? Battleship grey?”

“A slightly darker shade of grey I think.”

“Well, of course it wouldn’t be of exactly the same shade.”

“He had a cane.”

“I hope he was not crippled in any way.”

“No,” I said. “I think it was just a, like –”

“A walking cane. As gentlemen once were wont to carry.”

“Yes,” I said.

“What else?”

“Oh, I remember, he had those old-fashioned glasses that fit over the nose, with a ribbon hanging down?”


“Yes, I think that’s what they’re called.”

“Yes, a true gentleman of the old school! How I should like one day to meet him myself. I’ll warrant he was a fine, imposing gentleman!”

Again I guess I just couldn’t disguise my thoughts and feelings.

“Now what?” he said. “You’re saying he was not a fine gentleman?”

“No, he was a very fine gentleman,” I said. “Imposing too.”

“I told you not to fuck with me.”

“Okay,” I said. “Sorry.”

“Stop saying you’re sorry and say what’s on your mind.”

“Well, he was just a little grumpy,” I said.



“You’re saying I’m grumpy.”

“No, I’m saying he was grumpy.”

“But you’re implying, by subtext, that I am grumpy too. That’s why you didn’t want to say it.”

“Okay,” I said. “Maybe you’re right. But, look, can we just go in the bar now?”

“Maybe I got a right to be grumpy.”

“Maybe,” I said, and I put my hand on the door handle, but very quickly he brought his umbrella up and whacked my hand with its ferrule, not really hard, but enough for me to take my hand away, and to commence rubbing it with my other one.

“Maybe you would be grumpy too,” said Bert, “if you had to be a guardian angel to the absolute dregs of humanity down here on the Bowery. You think my job is easy?”

“I hadn’t thought about it,” I said. “But I guess it can be, uh, hard –”

“Hard? Hard? How about next to impossible?”

“Okay,” I said. “I can see, that, but –”

“So just remember, maybe the holy ghost has his own very good reasons for being grumpy too.”

“I will,” I said.

I again made a move to open the door, but Bert raised his umbrella and I quickly drew my hand away.

He took a step closer to me, so that he had to tilt his head back a little to look up at me.

“Where did you meet him?” he said.

“The holy ghost?”

“Who else are we talking about?”

“I – I met him in a bar, actually,” I said.

“You met him in a bar.”


“Another bar,” he said. “You spend a lot of time in bars, don’t you.”

I knew there was no point in denying it.

“Yes,” I said. “So –”

“Wait a minute. Just what was the holy ghost doing in this bar? He just happened to stop in for a drink?”


“I didn’t think so. A person of his eminence doesn’t just happen into a bar by chance, now does he?”

“He wanted to get Josh.”

“What do you mean, ‘get Josh’?

“Bring him back to heaven. Get him to stop acting like a human being.”

“I take it he was not successful in this endeavor.”

“Not as far as I know. So –”

“So, what?”

“Can we go in the bar now?”

“In a minute. What about you know who?”


He glanced upward.

“The other one.”

“Other one,” I repeated, being a little slow on the uptake.

The big fellow.” He raised his umbrella again, and I flinched, but luckily for me all he did was point it upwards, with little pushing movements. “The guy upstairs,” he said.

“Oh,” I said. “You mean God the father?”

“Yes.” He lowered the umbrella. “Unless you have some strange nickname for him as well.”

“No,” I said.

“Have you met him?”

“Him I haven’t met,” I said. “I was in his house, but –”

“Hold on. You were in the big house? The house on the hill?”


“I swear if you’re fucking with me –”

He paused, staring at me with those enormous eyes pressed against the lenses of his glasses like the mouths of two squids against the glass of an aquarium.

“Wow,” he said. “You’re not fucking with me. You really were in the big house? Got past St. Peter and everything. How did that happen? Because the word on the street is he is very tough, St. Peter is. Very tough. A stickler. But fair, mind you! Firm but fair. So how did you get past him?”

“Well, Josh got me in,” I said.

“No kidding? Josh himself took you in?”

“Yes,” I said. “Although at that time I still knew him as Jesus.”

“I see. Wow. So here I thought I was being assigned just another common ordinary Bowery stew bum. Tell me, Arnold, you are not by any chance a saint, are you?”

“Oh, no,” I said.

“You’re sure.”

“Fairly sure,” I said.

“But then you might be one and just don’t know it. Perhaps you are the patron saint of drug addicts and alcoholics.”

“I’d really like to go into the bar now,” I said.

“Let me just compose myself first,” he said. “Prepare myself. Just to think that now, at long last, after all these eons, I am about to bask in the divine presence. How do I look?”

What could I say? That he looked like a slightly shabby and not entirely hygienic little old man? No. Once again circumstances forced me to lie.

“You look fine,” I said.

“If I had only known I should have taken better care with my appearance. Perhaps have had my suit cleaned and pressed.”

“I don’t think, uh –”

“What am I saying?” he said. “Look at you, in those wet and dirty clothes, and with a black eye, and needing a shave, too, I might add.”

I was losing what little patience I still possessed.

“Right,” I said. “Look how messy I am, and Josh doesn’t seem to mind, so let’s go in.”

“But you’re his friend,” he said. “It’s different with friends. One is more shall we say indulgent with an old pal. But who am I? Just a modest guardian angel posted to one of the crummiest most disgusting slums in the world.”

“Okay,” I said, “look, Bert?”

“Yes, speak freely.”

“Josh doesn’t care how you look.”

“But how do you know that?”

“He’s my friend, remember? I know him.”

“I’m so envious. I know I shouldn’t be but I am.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s only human to be envious.”

“Ah, but there you see,” he said.

“What?” I said, resisting the urge to take him by the lapels and shake him as if he were a cocktail shaker full of Manhattans.

“I am not human,” he said. “A state for which I thank the good lord every day.”

“Well,” I said, “with any luck you’ll get the chance to thank him in person in a minute. Shall we go in now?”

“Yes,” he said. “Why don’t we?”

And without another word I turned and opened the door.

(Continued here, and onward, at our usual relentless pace.)

(Kindly turn to the right-hand column of this page to find a quite possibly-current listing of links to all other accessible chapters of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Looking for the perfect holiday gift for that certain bookish someone on your holiday shopping list? If so, then click here to order a copy of the paperback edition of our colleague Kathleen Maher’s most excellent novel Diary of a Heretic!)