Saturday, March 26, 2016

“Railroad Train to Heaven”, Part 479: learning

We left our memoirist Arnold Schnabel standing in the entrance area of Bob’s Bowery Bar with his friend Josh (also known as the son of God), on this fateful rainy August night in a version of 1957…

(Kindly go here to read our immediately preceding chapter; if you have stumbled by accident on this page and are wondering what can it all possibly mean then please click here to return to the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 71-volume autobiography.)

“To delve deep into Arnold Schnabel’s massive and towering
chef-d'œuvre is to discover a whole new universe so much more shall we say magical than that humdrum one in which we mere mortals stumble our way to the grave.” – Harold Bloom, in The Racing Form Literary Quarterly.

He drew his hand in from the rain and turned to face me. He waved the hand in the air, sprinkling me with tiny droplets of water, and then, putting his cigarette in his lips he took his handkerchief from the outside breast pocket of his suit jacket and dabbed his wet hand with it.

When he had finished he deftly folded the handkerchief again, in a “pocket fold”, something I’ve never learned how to do, and he inserted it neatly back into his pocket so that two triangles of the white cloth emerged one above the other against the blue cloth of his suit. He patted the pocket, then took the cigarette out of his mouth and breathed out a cloud of smoke in my direction. It smelled good, unlike the second-hand smoke of the vast majority of people I had met in my lifetime.

“So this is it, old pal,” he said, smiling. “Mortal at last. Or, ‘again’, I suppose I should say. And let’s just hope this sojourn on earth doesn’t end as disastrously for me as that last one did.”

“Are you sure?” was all I could think of to say.

“Sure of what.”

“Sure – of the fact – that you’re – you know –”

“A human being now,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

He raised one eyebrow and paused a moment before speaking again.

“Well, there’s one way to find out I suppose,” he said, but instead of saying what this one way was he said nothing, raising his burnt palm to in front of his face and gently blowing on it.

I wasn’t sure if he really was human now, but he was definitely doing one of those annoying things human beings do, namely making you pull teeth to get an answer out of them.

“And what is that one way, Josh,” I said, conceding defeat.

“The 'way'?”


“The one way to prove if I am mortal man or still a god?”

“Yes,” I said. “How.”

“I’ll tell you how.”


“You know what I can do, don’t you? To find out?”

“No,” I said. “That’s why I’m asking you.”

“I’ll tell you what I could do.”


“I could do what I was talking about earlier.”

“Which was?”

He gestured with his thumb out at the street.

“I could throw myself in front of the next passing bus, that’s what I could do.”


“Throw myself under a bus. Then if I die, then, well, we can only presume I am mortal. Or was mortal.”

“Please don’t do that, Josh.”

“Jump under a bus. Or a truck.”

“Yes,” I said. “Please don’t do that.”

“For your sake I would never do that, Arnold. Or at least I hope not.”

“Thank you.”

He turned so that he was sideways to the street, looking out at it.

“But I wonder if you would do something for me,” he said.

“Um,” I said.

He turned his head to look at me.

“I want you to think something,” he said.

“Think something?”

“Yes, just think something. Anything at all. I want to see if I can hear your thoughts. If I can then I’ll know I’m really not mortal and this is just a false alarm.”

“What should I think about?”

“Anything at all.”

“Uh –”


“I think so.”

“Good,” he said. “Go. Think of something.”

He turned and gazed out at the street and the rain again, taking a drag on his cigarette.

I tried to think of something but I couldn’t think of anything except for the fact that I couldn’t think of anything to think about.

“Are you thinking about something?” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Sort of.”

He turned away from the street to look at me.

“What do you mean, ‘sort of’?”

“Okay,” I said. “I was thinking something.”

“You’re sure.”

“I guess so. Yes. I was.”

“Good.” He continued to look at me. “Oh. Wait. You were thinking that you couldn’t think of anything to think about, weren’t you?”

“Wow,” I said. “Yes. Very good, Josh.”

“So I was right.”

“Yes –”

“But that one doesn’t count. You see, I know you, Arnold. I know how your brain works, so that might just have been a lucky guess. Think of something else now, but make it harder, something I wouldn’t be able to guess.”

He stood there staring at me, and I thought of how I didn’t want to be there anymore. I wanted to be back in my own world. More specifically, I wanted to be in Elektra’s bed, with her, both of us with no clothes on. I wanted it to still be the afternoon of that same rainy day when I had last been in my world, and I wanted to be lying there with Elektra as she dozed, after we had committed the act of sexual congress.

“Okay,” Josh said. “Stop.”

I tried to stop, but I was still thinking about lying in bed with Elektra, and the smell of her warm body, it smelled like pound cake warm from the oven, with fresh warm strawberry sauce spooned over it.

“You’re thinking about your girlfriend I’ll bet, right? Iolanthe is it?”

“Elektra actually,” I said.

“Elektra,” he said. “I could tell just by the way your eyes were practically glazing over with a film of concupiscence. That’s not the same as really hearing your thoughts, though.”

“Oh. Uh –”

“Try again. Think something else. Something harder this time. Something I could never guess. Something random. Like a piece of soft pretzel, lying in the sand, in the baking hot sun, with little insects flying around it.”


“Good. Go.”

He turned to face the street again.

All I could think of was that little bit of soft pretzel in the sand. It had toothmarks on it, and the little insects were landing on it, trying to derive some sustenance from it. I wondered if the salt on it was good for the little insects, which appeared to be gnats, a little cloud of buzzing hungry gnats. Would they be better off looking for some other food, some foodstuff not so liberally sprinkled with salt? A half-devoured lollipop perhaps... 

“Wait a minute,” said Josh. He turned partway so that he could see my face. “You’re not thinking about that piece of soft pretzel, are you?”

“Well, yes,” I admitted.

“That’s not fair, I only mentioned that bit of soft pretzel as an example of something random to think of. Think of something else, anything at all, just not a piece of soft pretzel in the sand.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Try. I know this sort of thing is hard for you to do, Arnold, but, for my sake, please, try.”

“I will.”

“Okay, you’re ready?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Okay,” he said. “When I say ‘go’. And – go.”

He turned to face the street once more, and I tried, I tried to think of something. But, strangely enough, or maybe not so strangely, as I forced myself not to think of the piece of soft pretzel in the sand, not entirely successfully either, I went a stage beyond not being able to think of anything, to wit I thought nothing, nothing itself was what I thought, if one can be said to think nothing. I say “strangely” because normally my brain is constantly churning with a million random thoughts, most of them brutally uninteresting. But now my brain was nothing but nothing, nothing at all but a vast empty universe, comprising absolutely nothing at all, except for just a very faint visual memory of that bit of soft pretzel in the sand in a world and time infinitely distant. I concentrated all my available willpower on forcing the pretzel bit to disappear and then it too was replaced by nothingness, as was I, and all was nothing but just a great blank unechoing void beyond time and space and life and death.

A second later or a millennium later I heard Josh’s voice, and saw his face, and behind it that crashing downpour.

“I’m getting nothing,” he said. “Nothing at all. See, that proves it, I’m human. Now you can tell me, what were you thinking about?”

“Do you promise not to get mad at me?”

“Why would I get mad at you? Go ahead, you can tell me. And if what you were thinking about was committing the act of congress with Ione, well,  that’s quite all right, you have nothing to feel guilty about.”


“So what were you thinking about.”


“Nothing,” he said.

“Yes,” I said. “Sorry.”

He looked at me, took another drag of his Pall Mall, waved his burnt hand in the air again.

“You’re a very strange man, Arnold.”

“I know,” I said.

“Okay, enough parlor games.” He took a drag on his cigarette. “Let’s assume for the sake of argument that I have achieved the state of mortality. Shall we?”

“Sure,” I said, still feeling somewhat embarrassed, and wanting to turn the spotlight away from myself.

“The question is,” said Josh, “what am I going to do now?”

He stared at me.

“Are you asking me that question?” I said, at last.

“Yes,” he said. “What do I do now?”

I took a moment, and then another. I took one more and then spoke:

“Josh, I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do. How should I know what you should do?”

“Okay,” he said. “Fair enough. Can I ask you another question?”

It was dawning on me that if he was really a human being now then there was probably no way he could help me get back to my world. I know that this was a self-centered way to think, but I’m only reporting the truth here, or trying to.

“I’m going to take your silence as permission to fire when ready,” he said.

“Oh, sure, go ahead,” I said.

“What are you going to do about Carlotta?”

“Pardon me?”

“Carlotta. What are you going to do about her.”

“Uh, nothing –”

“Wow,” he said, after a pause. “That’s – how shall I put it – cold.”

“But why do I have to do anything?” I said.

“Because the poor girl is in love with you, man. Cried herself to sleep over you.”

“Well,” I said, “I’m sorry about that, Josh, but –”

“But what?”

“It’s just I don’t see how that – I mean, I don’t even recall any of what happened between us –”

“Like committing the act of sexual congress with her.”

“Yes,” I said. “That was all before I, you know, arrived on the scene –”

“It was still you,” he said.

“It was a fictional character, whose corporeal form I am now inhabiting, in a fictional world, and she’s fictional too. None of it was real.”

“It certainly seems to have been real as far as Carlotta is concerned.”

“But I can’t help that,” I said.

“Ah, there you go, Arnold, maybe you can’t help what’s already happened. But, what you can help, is what will happen. So what are you going to do.”

“But –”

“That poor girl.”

“She’ll get over it, Josh.”

“You think so?”

“Sure,” I said. “Maybe. Probably. Most likely. I mean, eventually.”


“Yeah,” I said. “Like, she’ll meet some new guy. Some nice guy. I hope a nice guy. And she’ll maybe fall in love with him.”

“And forget about you.”

“Sure,” I said.

“You think so?”


“And maybe you’re right,” he said, after a brief pause. He was gazing out at the rain again. “So, maybe, there’s still hope for me.”

“Well,” I said, “you’re a nice guy.”

“You think so?”


“I wonder if I should go over there now,” he said. He turned his back to me, and looked out at the street again, down to the right. “She’s just right around the corner. I could be there in a jiffy.”

“You said she was asleep,” I said.

“That’s true,” he said. “Sleeping soundly. Passed out you might say.”

He held his hand out to the rain again. 

“I don’t think I’m even going to get my umbrella. I’m just going to dash right over there before I lose my nerve.”

I went over beside him.



He brought his hand in from the rain. He didn’t bother to dry it.

“So you’re talking about just going over there again,” I said, “and ringing her buzzer, waking her up?”

He turned to look at me. He took a drag of his Pall Mall before answering my question.

“Why?” he said, “Is that not a good idea?”

“Josh,” I said, “can I tell you one thing I do know about human beings?”

“Please do.”

“They don’t like being woken up from a sound sleep in the middle of the night.”


“Normally, no,” I said.

“You don’t think it’s kind of romantic?”

“Can I be honest?”

“Arnold, look, how about if we just both assume from now on that it’s okay for us both to be honest all the time.”

“Okay,” I said, “good. I have to tell you that it’s probably not a good idea to wake up Carlotta right now.”

“But I want to tell her that I‘m there for her.”

“I don’t know, Josh,” I said.

“May I give my opinion,” said a familiar deep and gruff voice.

Josh and I, who had been standing side by side facing the street, both turned and saw Ben standing there in the open doorway of the bar, good old Big Ben Blagwell, with his usual cigarette, and a big schooner half full of what looked like some sort of dark beer in his hand.

“Do not go back over there,” he said. “Don’t ever wake up a dame when she’s asleep. Not unless you want your eyes scratched out.”

“Or unless you want to get swatted,” said Ferdinand, who was buzzing around in Ben’s cigarette smoke.

“Dames like their sleep,” said Ben.

“They sure do,” said Ferdinand. “Dames don’t get their sleep they get cranky. Sometimes they get mean. I know. Believe me I know.”

“Me too,” said Ben. “I ain’t no coward, but don’t ask me to wake up no sleeping dame. I ain’t that brave. No, sir.”

“So you guys don’t think I should wake her up,” said Josh.

“Not unless you want to get your eyes clawed out,” said Ben.

“Or, God forbid, swatted,” said Ferdinand.

“There’s so much I have to learn,” said Josh, after a moment’s pause.

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

(Photograph by Nina Leen. Kindly scroll down the right-hand column of this page to find a  presumably up-to-date listing of links to all other officially-released episodes of
Arnold Schnabel’s Railroad Train to Heaven©. Coming later this year: Volume One of Arnold’s epic in e-book {and possibly even paper} form, at a price we hope you can afford!


Unknown said...

Love the song! Generally, anyone can tell what I'm thinking with a sidelong glance. So I prepared. If I were to find myself in Arnold's situation, I intended to borrow some luscious line like, "Batter my heart, three-person'd God..." But as you no doubt know, John Donne converted to the Anglican religion rather than die a martyr. Wonder if the Three-Person God held that against him.

Dan Leo said...

Poets get a special dispensation from the Deity – one of the perks of the job! (Glad you liked the song – I love Dinah! We had at least one of her albums in our house when I grew up, so she's part of my internal soundtrack...)