Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: "Donna"

Our memoirist Arnold Schnabel and his friends – that lovable brawler Big Ben Blagwell; Josh, the quondam savior of mankind; that ancient purveyor of the rarest books, Mr. Philpot; the unjustly obscure author Horace P. Sternwall; and Ferdinand the loquacious fly – have hitched a ride in a Ford Model AA truck as an enormous storm threatens to overcome them from the rear.. 

(Kindly click here to read last week’s exciting episode. Those who are curious to begin this Gold View Award™-winning 63-volume memoir at the beginning are invited to go here to purchase Railroad
Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel.)

“When the final roll is called of the truly great masters of world literature surely the name of Arnold Schnabel must be included along with those of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Proust, Joyce, and Sternwall.” – Harold Bloom, in the
Mojo Literary Supplement.

I began to feel myself teetering on the verge of complete insanity once again, just as I had teetered hundreds of times before – no, thousands of times, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, although millions might possibly be stretching it a little bit. Would this be the time when finally I would slip into the great dark abyss of mindlessness once again, perhaps never to slip back out of it? 

Behind us that great dark storm the size of half the sky had now given birth to an enormous tornado of a darker and more sinister substance, as if it were composed of billions of churning and swarming angry Brillo pads, its whipping tail coursing along the road perhaps a half-mile back, pulling its mile-high weaving and swaying body straight toward us and getting closer by the second.

What would be worse, to go completely and hopelessly mad or to be swept up like a matchstick by the tornado, to be cast cartwheeling through the sky and then to be reduced to a long broken trail of blood and meat and pulverized bones?

But then I remembered, even if my companions were unaware of it, that I and they were all characters in a fictional world, the world of Horace’s novel The Jolly Six Bums – I had started reading the book at the very beginning, so surely we couldn’t all be killed so early in the novel – no novel was that short.

Maybe the farmer would get us to shelter in time, a nice basement or root cellar, or even a dedicated storm cellar. Considering that this was a Horace P. Sternwall novel we were in, it would not be out of the question for a beautiful and passionate farmer’s daughter to be in the offing, maybe even more than one, or at least a beautiful and frustrated farmer’s wife. Oh, sure, there could well be some business with the farmer and his shotgun or his strapping sons with pitchforks, but in the end would not the jolly six bums prevail, back on the road again, singing a proud and merry bum song? But when I leaned my head over the side-rails of the truck and looked beyond the cab at the road ahead I saw no sign of a farmhouse or any other dwelling or shelter, only empty fields, whether fields or wheat or some other grain or vegetable I could not say, being a city boy myself. 

When I turned back I saw my human companions all staring rearward at that huge roaring twister now perhaps only a quarter-mile behind us and each passing millisecond growing larger and taller and nearer.

“Yep, we’re doomed all right,” cackled Mr. Philpot.

“Sure looks like it,” said Ben. “A tough break. I still had a few Planter’s Punches with floats of ‘151’ I was hoping to quaff down.”

“And a few more shots of Carstairs whiskey for me,” said Horace, “a few more tall schooners of bock. My tastes are simple. Were simple.”

“The touch of a woman’s soft warm body is what I’ll miss,” said Ferdinand, still sitting in the porch of my left ear. “And don’t look at me like that. I may be a fly, but I can appreciate female pulchritude. Could appreciate.”

“And as for me,” said Josh, “I have to say I was looking forward to my first-ever sexual experience.”

“Tough one, Josh,” said Ben.

“I used to fuck a lot,” said Mr. Philpot. “And not so long ago, either. You fellows ever hear of Lily Langtry?”

“Wow,” said Horace, “you made whoopee with Lily Langtry?”

By way of answer Mr. Philpot made a motion with an imaginary billiards cue of drawing a score-keeping bead across its line.

“Who was Lily Langtry?” said Ben.

“’Who was Lily Langtry?’” said Mr. Philpot, “why only the most beautiful actress of her age!”

“No kidding,” said Ben. “Hot number, huh?”

“Red hot, sonny boy,” said Mr. Philpot. “They called her ‘the Jersey Lily’.”

“Jersey girl, huh?” said Ben. “I always liked Jersey girls. Down to earth like. I remember this one babe from Bayonne –”

As Ben went on with his story about the babe from Bayonne I looked back and saw that enormous twister twisting closer and closer, now only a football field’s length behind us and roaring so loud now that Ben’s booming voice became only a faint and unintelligible humming and barking.

It suddenly occurred to me that if I were indeed a main character in this novel – and, who knows, perhaps even the hero – then maybe it was up to me to save the day, rather than just sitting here passively awaiting my doom while hoping vaguely for a miracle, which, considering that the son of God was sitting with a sad resigned expression right next to me, did not seem likely. But how could I, a mere bum, defeat an enormous tornado?

And then I realized that the answer was sitting there right next to me, to my right: the aforementioned cardboard box of paperback books. I reached in and grabbed the first one my hand fell upon.

The book was titled Lady Psychiatrist, by “Hannah Pierce Sandler”. The cover painting showed a shapely woman in a black dress and pearls sitting with her legs crossed and holding a pad and pen. To the right of her a distressed-looking man sat on a sofa with his head in his hands.

Above the title this sentence was emblazoned with a brush in orange-red ink:

“Dr. Blanche cured the souls of tortured people – but could she find the cure for the emptiness in her own heart?”

Down near the bottom of the cover was another sentence, but in bold black type:

“A searing look into the world of psychoanalysis that asks the question: can the professional woman of today find fulfillment in work alone?”

I was not surprised to see that this sentence was attributed to “Horace P. Sternwall”,  and the thought occurred to me that most likely Horace was no other than "Hannah Pierce Sandler",  or vice versa.

I glanced again to the rear of the truck. The tornado was no farther than fifty yards away. I had no time to lose, I had everything to lose.

I opened the book, flipped quickly through the front matter, and went straight to the first sentence of the first chapter.

I was in a hallway, and standing in front of a door with frosted glass. Painted on the glass in black paint, bordered with gold, was the name

Dr. Blanche Weinberg

Well, I was here, and not about to be swept up bodily to my doom by a massive tornado, so, not knowing what else to do, I put my hand on the doorknob, turned it, the door opened, and I went in.

A young blonde woman sat a desk across the room.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hello,” I said.

I seemed to be in a waiting room, which made sense. Two large windows looked out onto a city skyline. One of the windows had an air-conditioner in it, it was humming, the room was pleasantly cool. Chairs were placed along the walls, as well as small tables, with ashtrays and magazines.

The blonde tapped the point of a pencil on a page of a book on the desk.

“You must be Mr. Walker,” she said. “Mr. Porter Walker?”

Well, I supposed I was. After all, it wasn’t as if I hadn’t been "Porter Walker" before.

“Yes,” I said.

“You’re just a teeny bit late, Mr. Walker.”

“Sorry,” I said. I glanced at my wrist, but Porter Walker did not wear a watch. There was a clock on the wall, behind the young woman. It said ten minutes past four.

“You do realize that you will have to pay for the full hour, Mr. Walker?”

“Uh, yeah, sure, that’s okay,” I said. “My fault.”

I glanced at the wall to my left. It had a couple of abstract paintings on it. I wondered if it was such a good idea to have abstract paintings in a psychiatrist’s office. The paintings looked like representations of my brain on bad days.

“Was the traffic dreadful?” said the blonde.

She had a heavy New York City accent, which I am too lazy to try to represent with artful spelling, but take my word for it.

“Uh,” I said.

“Or did you take the subway?”

“Um,” I said.

“Or the bus?”

I hated to start right off by lying, and so, since driving a car or taking the subway or a bus all would involve at least some walking, I said, “I walked.”

“All the way from –” she glanced at the book on her desk, “Bleecker and the Bowery?”

“I like to walk,” I said.

“You should give yourself more time if you’re going to walk.”

“Yes,” I said. “I’ll do that in the future.”

“I live all the way out in Coney Island. I always give myself a good hour to get to work, just in case of the subways.”

“That’s smart,” I said.

She was a pretty girl, with a bubble of hair as bright as the sun, but I think it was dyed, it looked a little too bright.

“You know what I do when I get to work early?” she said.

“No,” I said.

“I sit in the coffee shop downstairs and drink a hot cocoa or an egg cream and watch the passing parade through the window.”

“The parade?”

“The passing parade of humanity.”

“Ah,” I said.

“Sometimes I read a book, but mostly I get caught up in watching the passing parade.”

“That’s –” what? “understandable,” I said.

“I see –” she tapped the book on her desk with her pencil again, “that you list your occupation as ‘poet’.”


“Is there good money in poetry?”

I thought of my many years of writing poems for the Olney Times, starting out at fifty cents a poem, and eventually working my way up to a dollar. But then hadn’t Porter Walker gotten a tidy advance for his bad epic poem?

“It all depends,” I said.

“Oh, but, look, I’m eating up your time,” she said. “And you’re still gonna have to pay for it. One mo.”

She picked up the receiver of the phone on her desk, I neglected to mention, she had a dark blue office-style phone on her desk, along with a lot of other things, I don’t know what all, it’s not as if I’m a novelist who notices such details, and she pressed a button on the face of the telephone. After a moment she said, into the phone:

“Dr. Blanche, Mr. Walker is here. Yeah, he knows he’s late. Okay, I’ll send him right in.”

She hung up the phone.

“Dr. Blanche is waiting for you,” she said.

“Great,” I said.

“Just go right in.”

With a backward gesture of her hand she indicated a door to her right.

I walked over to the door.

“My name’s Donna,” said a voice as I put my hand on the doorknob. The voice belonged to the girl behind the desk.

I turned to her and said, “Hello, Donna. My name is Arnold.”

“What?” she said. “I thought your name was Porter. Porter Walker.”

“Right,” I said. “Sorry, I meant to say Porter.”

“Then why did you say Arnold?”

“Uh, it’s a long story,” I said. “I don’t think I have time to go into it right now.”

“Oh, I get it,” she said. “It’s probably something you should talk about with Dr. Blanche. You might have Dissociative Identity Disorder.”

“Yes,” I said. “I think I might have a touch of, uh, what you said –”

“Dissociative Identity Disorder. Dr. Blanche can help you with that, Mr. Walker. Or would you prefer that I call you Arnold?”

“Porter’s okay,” I said.

“Okay, Porter. You’d better go in. You’re fifteen minutes late as it is.”

“Right,” I said.

“I’ll see you when you come out,” she said, and then after a pause added, “Porter.”

“Sure, thanks, uh –”

“Donna. Donna Corbucci. You’re not prejudiced against Italians, are you?”

“Not at all,” I said.

“Dr. Blanche is Jewish.”

“That’s okay,” I said.

“This is good, that you’re not prejudiced,” she said.

She picked up a paperback book. It was A Stone for Danny Fisher, by Harold Robbins.

I opened the door.

Illustration by Paul Rader.

(Continued here, and so on, until Arnold’s last marble composition book has been transcribed, complete and unexpurgated, and with only the most blatant misspellings silently corrected.)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “trucking”

Our hero Arnold Schnabel has been transported into the world of a cheap paperback novel –
The Jolly Six Bums, by Horace P. Sternwall – and specifically to a hot dusty road stretching through unpopulated farmland some eighty miles from St. Louis, MO. Once again Arnold is accompanied by his old crew: that nautical adventurer Big Ben Blagwell; Josh (aka the Son of God); the ancient Mr. Philpot; Horace P. Sternwall himself; and, of course, Ferdinand, the talking fly. A frightening storm approaches from the horizon, but a man in an old Ford Model AA truck has stopped and offered our friends a ride...

(Please go here to read last week’s episode. If you would like to begin at the very beginning of this Gold View Award™-winning 72-volume memoir you may click here to buy
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel.)

“Surely the greatest literary event of the 21st century is the publication of the greatest work of the 20th century, Arnold Schnabel’s sprawling but magnificent
chef-d'œuvre.” – Harold Bloom, in the Cosmopolitan Literary Supplement.

“All of us?” said Horace.

“Yep, alla ya,” said the man. “And ya better be quick about it if’n we’re gonna outrun that there storm.”

He didn’t have to tell us twice, and as one we hustled to the back of the truck. 

Ben, the tallest and strongest of our little band, hauled his great body up over the rear gate first and pulled the rest of us up one by one, except for Ferdinand of course, who needed no help to fly up.

Ben had no sooner yanked up and set gently down the last of us – old Mr. Philpot, and as easily as a normally strong man would have lifted up a rag doll – when the truck lurched into gear and roared off, causing us all to stagger and fall back against the wooden rails on the sides of the truck and to slide or fall down to its flooring.

The jolting truck bed, composed of ribbed iron baked searing hot by the sun, banged like some exotic form of torture against my buttocks and the base of my spinal cord, but just as I was resigning myself to this new source of pain I observed that my human or humanoid companions had all wisely shifted their luggage under their backsides by way of seat-cushions, and so I pulled my duffel bag under my own rear end before even a partial paralysis could be incurred. No doubt I had much to learn about the ways of being a bum.

“You see,” said Josh, “not all farmers are bad.”

He sat to my left on his expensive-looking but dusty suitcase (which I noticed was monogrammed with the initials JC). Mr. Philpot sat to Josh’s left on the old Gladstone bag, Horace and Ben sat across from us on seabag and cardboard grip, and I could feel Ferdinand safely ensconced in the porch of my left ear.

“I want to thank you, Josh,” said Horace, blowing on the ash-end of his cigar to get the burn up again. “You came through like a true son of the big man upstairs, sir!”

“I really don’t think it was my doing,” said Josh, he was leaning over to relight Mr. Philpot’s pipe with his golden Ronson. “Or my father’s. I think that we have simply found a good man.”

“Not all men are scum,” said Ben. He must have tossed away the cigarette he had been smoking, I’m sorry, I didn’t notice when exactly, and now he took a crumpled pack of Sweet Caporals out of his shirt pocket. Come to think of it, the only kind of cigarette packet I had ever seen him pull out of a pocket was the crumpled and already opened kind; perhaps he bought them that way? He gave the pack his usual expert shake, so that exactly one cigarette poked up from its fellows, and he stuck it in his lips. “A lot of ‘em are scum, but not all of ‘em. I’m gonna say seven percent of men are not outright scum.”

Mr. Philpot drew on his pipe a few times and coughed before putting in his two cents.

“I think you’re being a mite generous there, sailor boy,” he said.

“Well, I think we can safely say we’ve found one man who’s not scum,” said Horace.

“Who?” said Ben. He had taken a book of matches out of his shirt pocket, and even from across the truck I could see that they were Musso and Frank’s matches.

“Why, the farmer who picked us up,” said Horace.

“Oh,” said Ben. “Him.” He lowered his face into his cupped hands the way he must have done a hundred thousand times on the decks of storm-tossed ships and lighted his cigarette. Raising his head he let out a great lungful of smoke that was sucked away into the yellow-grey cloud billowing in the wake of the truck, and he flicked the match after it. “He’s okay, I guess.”

“We’ll see about that,” said Mr. Philpot.

“What do you mean, Mr. Philpot?” said Josh.

“I mean we’ll see if this farmer is on the level or not,” said Mr. Philpot, puffing away on his corncob pipe.

“You fellows don’t seem very trusting,” said Josh. He too had apparently gotten rid of the cigarette he had been smoking, all sorts of things must have been happening that I hadn’t noticed, and now he was removing a cigarette from his usual engraved gold cigarette case, which as usual was exactly full of cigarettes.

“I beg your pardon, your highness –” said Mr. Philpot.

’Josh’,” said Josh. “Please, Mr. Philpot, just call me Josh. I am a man now, just like you good fellows. We’re all friends here, so, please. ‘Josh’.”

“Very well, ‘Josh’, said Mr. Philpot. “What was I saying?”

“You were begging my pardon,” said Josh.

“And what did you say before that?”

“I said –” Josh hesitated, rolling the tape back in his mind, “oh, now I remember, I said you chaps don’t seem very trusting.”

He lighted up his cigarette with his Ronson, but less dramatically than the way Ben had ignited his Sweet Caporal. Maybe his was a special deific lighter, resistant to high winds and the jolting of an old truck roaring along a dusty country road.

“You say that, friend Josh,” said Mr. Philpot, “but look what happened to you when you trusted that punk Judas.”

Josh exhaled his own lungful of smoke. He put the lighter back in his suit-coat pocket before speaking.

“Okay. Point taken,” he said.

“Hey, Arnold,” said Ferdinand, in my ear, speaking only loud enough for me to hear, “do you have the feeling something awful is going to happen?”

“Yes,” I said, “but then I usually do.”

“What’s that, Arnie?” yelled Ben.

“Oh, nothing,” I said.

“I said,” yelled Ferdinand, from inside my ear, loud enough for the others to hear over the roaring and rattling of the truck, “don’t you have the feeling something bad’s about to happen?”

“There, you see, Ferdinand,” said Horace, “you’re one of these glass half-full guys.”

“Maybe you would be too if you were a fly,” said Ferdinand.

“He’s got a point, Horace,” said, yelled Ben. Let’s just say everyone was yelling now, as long as we were in the truck anyway, “a fly’s life must not be an easy one.”

“That depends,” said Mr. Philpot.

“On what?” said Ben. “On how much shit they get to eat?”

“Precisely,” said Mr. Philpot. “You take a fly born and raised in a nice dung heap, one who lives his whole life in that dung heap. That fly, I should warrant, has lived a happy life. What say you, Mr. Ferdinand?”

“I have to say I agree with you, Mr. Philpot,” said Ferdinand. “Some flies are just born lucky. But, man, will you look at that storm.”

We all turned and looked back. That great churning dark grey tidal wave of a storm had crossed the road behind us, and it stretched as far as the eye could see on either side of the road as it now boiled and roiled and rolled in all its enormity at visible high speed right toward us and this open Model AA Ford truck we sat in.

“Holy shit,” said Ben. “I seen plenty of hurricanes and typhoons and nor’easters in my time, but I ain’t never seen nothing like that storm.”

“We’re doomed,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Maybe we’ll outrun it,” said Horace.

“It sure don’t look like we’re gonna outrun it,” said Ferdinand, “not at the rate this old heap is goin’.”

“Yeah, I gotta say he’s probably only doing about forty-five right now,” said Horace.

“Forty-five knots?” said Ben. “That don’t sound right.”

“No, Ben,” said Horace. “I meant miles per hour. If we had been in a boat I would perhaps have said knots. But we’re not, we’re in a truck in case you haven’t noticed.”

“Sure,” said Ben, “I knew that. But y’see, an old sea dog like me thinks in terms of knots. That’s just the way I am. I use nautical terms and slang all the time. Hey, love  me or leave me. I mean, I accept you the way you are. I wish you would just accept me for the way I am.”

“You sound like a faggot,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Hey,” said Ben, “just because I’m a big strong brawling seafaring man don’t mean I ain’t got feelings, Mr. Philpot.”

“Oh, Christ,” said Ferdinand. “I mean, Jesus Christ.”

“Yes?” said Josh.

“I mean,” said Ferdinand, “you know what I can’t believe?”

“What’s that, Ferdinand?” said Josh.

“Okay, you know what I believe but I find it hard to accept?”

“I admit I have no idea,” said Josh.

“What I just cannot accept but it looks like I’m gonna have to?”

“Okay, we’ll all bite, little guy,” said Horace. “What are you just going to have to accept.”

“Just spit it out, pal,” said Ben. “Like Josh says, we’re all friends here. Even Mr. Philpot.”

“Ha,” said Mr. Philpot.

“What I cannot accept,” said Ferdinand, “but it looks like I am going to have to accept is the fact that I am going to be listening to you knuckleheads talking complete and utter bullshit at the exact moment of my death. That is what I cannot accept. But I guess I’m going to have to accept it. So, please, do not let me stop you. Continue talking rank and utter bullshit. Right up to your dying breath. And to mine. Unfortunately.”

“Wow,” said Horace.

“Yeah,” said Ben. “Like, wow.”

“Ha ha,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Gee,” said Josh.

I realize now that I have been remiss in that I have neglected to describe the back of the truck we rode in. For all the reader knows we sat on a bare ribbed iron flooring, but in fact there were all sorts of things in the truck bed: coils of rope, an unsecured truck tire that appeared to be empty of only the minimal amount of air, milk crates filled with metal objects and tools, cardboard and wooden boxes filled with more metal objects and wires and coils and chains and more ropes and other unknown and unseen things, and, to my right, a cardboard box filled with used-looking paperback books.

A silence had fallen among us. No, not a silence, because the truck still rattled and roared beneath us, and now there was a new ambient sound, behind us, the roaring of the approaching storm, as if all the universe were roaring with rage.

“Hey, wait a minute,” I said, the victim of one of my sudden brainwaves, “how long have we all been in this world?”

“What?” said Horace.

“Yeah, what the fuck?” said Ben

“Have you gone mad, sir?” said Mr. Philpot.

“What the fuck are you on about,” said Ferdinand.

“Are you okay, Arnold?” said Josh.

“But don’t you all remember when we were last together?” I said. “Less than an hour ago we were all sitting around a booth in Bob’s Bowery Bar. And Ben started to read aloud from this book. The Ace of Death it was called, written by Horace here, supposedly, although really it was, what, created by Mr. Philpot. Don’t you all remember?”

“Calm down, buddy,” said Ferdinand.

“He must have gone loco from the heat,” said Mr. Philpot.

“I seen it happen,” said Ben. “One time when my ship got torpedoed and me and my shipmates drifted in a lifeboat for weeks in the middle of the boiling hot South Pacific, I seen them guys go nuts one by one, and all we could do was bash ‘em on the head with an oar and then tip 'em over the side. Did ‘em a favor, really.”

“Take a few deep breaths, Arnie,” said Horace. “I’d offer you a drink of water if we had any water. Or whiskey if we had any whiskey.”

“Josh,” I said. “Don’t you remember? I was just sitting across from you at the bar –”

“Sure, Arnold,” he said. “I suppose in some universe, in some hypothetical time-space continuum, it could be said that we were just recently, as you say, sitting in a booth at this Bill’s Bowery Bar –”

“Bob’s Bowery Bar,” I said.

“Sure,” said Josh. “Bob’s Bowery Bar.”

“You don’t remember,” I said. “You think I’m dreaming it.”

“But isn’t all life a dream?” he said.

I decided to say no more, at least for the present.

I looked back over the tailgate of the truck. The storm roared closer, as if all the chaos of the universe was about to swallow us whole.

(Continued here, barring a nuclear holocaust or similar unpleasantness.)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “bums”

When we last saw our hero Arnold Schnabel he was just inside the entranceway of the apartment building of “Wiggly Jones, the little hippie boy”, with the three hoods “the Toad, the Rat, and the Bear” waiting just outside and prepared to do Arnold mortal harm. In desperation Arnold has opened a paperback novel that Wiggly has given him: The Jolly Six Bums, by Horace P. Sternwall... 

(Kindly go here to read the immediately preceding chapter of this
Gold View Award™-winning saga. If you would like to begin at the very beginning you may click here to purchase your very own copy of Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel, available both as a deluxe large-format paperback and an affordable and convenient Kindle™ e-book.)

“Worlds within worlds, dimensions within dimensions, realities merging and separating, life blending into death and back again into life: such is the multifarious universe of Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in the AARP Literary Digest.

I quickly leafed past the front matter of the book (including a page of reviews: “Sternwall hits another one out of the park!” – John Crowe Ransom; “A rollicking picaresque!” – T.S. Eliot; “Lots of laughs, and, yes, a well-earned tear or two.” – Bishop Fulton J. Sheen; “Prose as limpid as mountain brook water.” – Edgar Guest; “A new Sternwall novel, or ‘joint’ as he likes to call them, is always welcome, and God bless him for turning them out at a rate that makes Balzac look like a lazy idle loafer!” – Anthony Powell) and went right to the first chapter, which started, if memory serves, with:

Me and the boys were walking down another hot dusty road just like a thousand other hot dusty roads, every one of them roads leading to this hot dusty road, which would lead to a thousand other hot dusty roads, or to roads that might not be hot and dusty but were cold, or rainy, or snowy, and maybe even a few, a very few, that were just plain old roads – not too hot, or too cold, or rainy or snowy or even dusty. Some of them were paved roads or highways, some were dirt roads, and some were only old paths or Indian tracks through woods or fields. But all of them roads and highways and pathways and tracks had one thing in common. All of them wound up nowhere you really wanted to be. And that’s why we kept on hitting the road, me and my five buddies – the jolly six bums we called ourselves... 

Sure enough I was now walking along the side of a hot dusty road, with shimmering yellow-green fields on either side. I recognized Ferdinand the fly buzzing merrily around my head. Big Ben Blagwell was walking to my left, toward the middle of the road, smoking a cigarette as usual. In front of us was Horace P. Sternwall, a trail of cigar smoke following behind him. Looking over my shoulder I saw Josh, smoking a cigarette and walking with Mr. Philpot, who was smoking a corncob pipe. If my math was correct that made six of us, apparently the titular jolly six bums.

Everyone was dressed in the clothes I had last seen them in, except for Ferdinand of course, who as usual was naked. Ben wore his wrinkled worn dungarees and Hawaiian shirt and his old off-white nautical cap. Horace was wearing the same beat-up leather jacket, dirty grey-green work trousers and battered brown fedora. Mr. Philpot wore his dark old-fashioned three-piece suit and matching derby, and he had his wire-rim pince-nez glasses on, its thick lenses glittering in the harsh sunlight. Josh wore his blue suit and straw trilby. I seemed to be wearing the same seersucker jacket and plaid shirt, a dark grey tie, blue jeans and work shoes. Everyone’s clothes were dusty.

I was carrying a bag over my shoulder, it seemed to be an old olive drab army duffel. Ben had a bag over his great shoulder too, a great big pale grey navy seabag with his last name stenciled on it in letters faded barely visible. Horace carried a beat-up brown suitcase, of material that at least had been made to look like leather. Another glance over my shoulder assured me that Mr. Philpot carried nothing but his furled black umbrella, which he was using as a walking cane, but I assumed that the large and very old-looking black Gladstone bag that Josh carried in his right hand was Mr. Philpot’s. In Josh’s other hand was a small but expensive-looking brown and black leather suitcase, and, unlike Horace’s, I had no doubt that its leather was real. Mr. Philpot held onto Josh’s coat-sleeve with his free hand, making walking that much more awkward for Josh. Ferdinand of course traveled the lightest of all, he carried nothing, being only a fly.

A great yellow sun that looked like an enormous helium-filled balloon floating a hundred feet directly over our heads poured heat down onto us and onto the road where it continuously bounced up and merged with the fresh heat pouring down.

Except for the shuffling sound of our feet and the groans and gasping of our labored breathing, all was still and quiet, apparently the only insect abroad being our friend Ferdinand.

Sweat streamed down my face as the sun baked my hatless head and the rest of me. My work shirt was drenched with what felt like warm gritty Vaseline, and my feet hurt, but, happily, I realized that none of my other various aches and pains had made the trip into this universe. So, it’s true, things can always be worse…

Suddenly Horace burst into song:

    Oh, the jolly six bums (he sang)
    the jolly six bums,
    the jolly six bums are we.
    We ramble round
    this dirty old town
    as happy as can be.
    The other day we met a guy
    we never met before
    he asked us if we wanted a job
    shoveling iron ore.
    We asked him what the wages was –
    a buck and a half a ton!
    We told him he could keep his job
    ‘cause we was on the bum.
    Oh, shootin’ stumps and stogies,

“Excuse me, Ferdinand,” I said to my old friend the fly, as Horace continued to sing, “do you know where we’re going?”

“Headed to St. Louis,” said Ferdinand. He pronounced it St. Louie. “Weren’t you paying attention?”

“St. Louis?” I said, pronouncing it Louis.

“Good town, St. Louie,” said Ben.

Horace stopped singing and turned his head to say, “A great town. A guy can have a good time in St. Louie.”

“You know who was from St. Louie?” said Mr. Philpot. “T.S. Eliot, or ‘Tommy-boy’ as we used to call him when he was young and new in town. For all his English pretensions he was just another midwestern yokel, taking elocution lessons to lose his hayseed accent and eating his peas with a knife –”

“Ha ha,” said Josh. “By the way, how are you holding up, Mr. Philpot? Do you want to rest for a while?”

“I can out-walk all you young whippersnappers,” said Mr. Philpot. “Although I do appreciate the loan of your arm, sir, just in case this brutal sun should cause me to temporarily grow dizzy.”

“It is my pleasure, Mr. Philpot,” said Josh.

“Hey, Horace,” said Ben, “how far you think we got to go before we reach St. Louie?”

“I figure we should reach the outskirts by nightfall,” said Horace. “I figure it’s about high noon now, so – six, seven hours, maybe eight.”

“Eight hours?” said Ben.

“Eight hours if we keep moving at a steady pace,” said Horace. “Maybe nine.”

“Fuck this,” said Ben. “If I wanted to walk my legs to the bone I would’ve joined the army –”

“Maybe a farmer will come by and give us a lift,” said Josh.

“Maybe a farmer would give one of us a lift,” said Horace. “Five of us is stretching it.”

“Six of us,” said Ferdinand.

“Right, sorry, Ferdy,” said Horace. “Make that six. The thing about farmers is, they’re, how do I put this –”

“They’re cowards,” said Mr. Philpot. “They see six bums on the road, all they can think is we’re going to rob them, kill ‘em, take their truck, and ride off into the sunset.”

“Now, Mr. Philpot,” said Josh. “Not all farmers are like that. Why, I remember back in Galilee –”

“Hey,” said Horace, “look back there, fellas.”

We all turned and looked back. A truck was coming up the road, followed by a greyish-yellow cloud.

“Oh, dear God,” said Ben. “Please let him give us a ride.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” said Josh.

“Man, if you could,” said Ben. “Because I gotta tell you, I am not digging this walking through this fucking farmland in this heat, man, not even a tree in sight –”

“You think this is bad,” said Josh, “you should see Galilee –”

“Or Death Valley,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Yeah, I know,” said Ben. “Or the fucking Sahara. I don’t give a shit.”

“All right, everybody,” said Horace, “try not to look like a band of cutthroats, and I’ll put the old thumb out.”

We all stood there by the side of the road in that dusty baking hot sunlight as Horace stepped a pace or two into the road and held out his right thumb as the truck approached.

It was an old Ford truck, I think it was a Model AA from around 1929, a dusty dark green, with unpainted wooden rails on the sides of the bed.

The truck got closer, followed by its roiling greyish-yellow cloud – we could see through the glaring greasy-looking windshield a man in the driver’s seat, he slowed the truck down and stopped just abreast of our little band. We all moved closer to the passenger side, the grey-yellow cloud descending all around us. The man in the truck leaned to his right and looked out through the window at us. He wore overalls and a straw hat and was smoking what looked like a hand-rolled cigarette. He looked to be somewhere between forty and seventy years of age, with a thin long face with skin like tight brown leather.

“Where you fellas headed?”

“St. Louis, sir,” said Horace, taking off his fedora. “But if you could take us any distance at all we would certainly appreciate it.”

“St. Louie you say?”

“Yes, sir,” said Horace. “Good old St. Louie, heh heh.”

“St. Louie is back that way,” said the man, and he jerked his thumb in the direction he had just come from.

“Oh, shit,” said Horace.

“I thought you said St. Louie was straight ahead,” said Ben, to Horace. “And that we would reach it by nightfall.”

“You ain’t gonna reach St. Louie by nightfall goin’ in that direction,” said the man.

“Shit,” said Horace.

“We’re doomed,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Excuse me,” said Josh, to the man in the truck. “How far back would you say St. Louis is?”

“St. Louie?”

“Yes,” said Josh. “St. Louie, that is.”

“Sevenny mile, I’d say,” said the man. “Give or take five mile or so. Say sevenny-five mile, just to be on the safe side.”

“Seventy-five miles?” said Ben.

“Seventy-five mile to the outskirts,” said the man. “Let’s say eighty mile to get downtown.”

“I don’t believe it,” said Ben.

“It’s the truth, young fella,” said the man.

“Well, eighty miles,” said Josh. “I guess we’d better turn around and start walking then.”

“Fuck this shit,” said Ben. “We’re gonna die out here, and it’s all your fault, Horace.”

“Hey, who died and made me Old Leatherstocking?” said Horace.

“You fellas ain’t gonna make St. Louie,” said the man in the truck.

“We ain’t?” said Horace. “I mean, we’re not?”

“Nope, you ain’t,” said the man. “See them storm clouds yonder?”

He pointed a finger to the world in back of us, and we turned as one.

The sky on lower half of that side of the world was not so much cloudy as a titanic living mass of churning dark sooty grey that looked like the radioactive cloud produced by a thousand H-bombs exploding at once.

“Storm comin’,” said the man. “Prolly a twister or three, too, judgin’ by the look of that sky.”

“A twister?” said Horace. 

“Mebbe four-five twisters,” said the man.

“You mean twisters like in the Wizard of Oz?”

“I don’t know about no wizard,” said the man, “but I knows what a twister is, and if you fellas get caught on the road in a good one, well, let me just say I hope you’ve made your peace with your maker, because you’re gonna meet him right quick.”

“Actually,” said Josh, “the protocol is that my friends would meet St. Peter before meeting their ‘maker’ –”

“Mebbe so, son,” said the man in the truck, “mebbe so. Can’t say myself, since I ain’t never been dead. Which is what you boys all gonna be if you be out here on this road when that twister hits.”

When it hits?” said Horace.

“Well, if it hits,” said the man. “But most likely, judging by that sky yonder I’m bound to say when that twister hits. Or twisters. Mebbe half-dozen of ‘em, each one sweepin’ up what the one before left behine it.”

“So, there you are,” said Mr. Philpot. “I told you all we were doomed.”

“Shit,” said Ben.

“Hey, guys,” said Ferdinand, “I hope you won’t take it personally if I hitch a ride with Farmer John here.”

“Who said that?” said the man in the truck.

My friends all turned to look at Ferdinand, who was still buzzing around my head.

“Oh, that was me,” I said.

“I didn’t see your lips move,” said the man.

“That’s Arnie for ya, heh heh,” said Horace. “You see, Arnie is a ventriloquist, a stage artiste temporarily unemployed, alas, as, come to think if it, are all of us, but, gee, mister, I wonder if we could ask you to give us a lift just to the next town, or –”

“Nearest town is St. Louie,” said the man. “Eighty mile away, mebbe eighty-five.”

“Fuck,” said Ben.

“We’re doomed,” said Mr. Philpot.

“Sir,” said Josh, “I know this is a horrible imposition, but would you possibly consider giving my friends and me a ride to, to anywhere where we could take some shelter –”

“Even just a barn,” said Horace, “a cow shed, even a pigsty –”

“Get in the back,” said the man.

(Continued here, and onward, until our dedicated staff has transcribed every last one of Arnold’s black-and-white marble composition books, with no editorial intrusion save the correcting of the most egregious misspellings.)

Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “ha ha”

We left our hero Arnold Schnabel here in the “pad” of “Wiggly Jones, the little hippie boy”, with Wiggly and the Buddha (“Call me Sid”), the latter in the earthly form of a cigarette lighter...

(Please click here to read our previous episode. If you would like to begin at the very beginning of Arnold’s saga you may click here to purchase
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel.)

“It’s a complete mystery to me why
Railroad Train to Heaven is not at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. Has good taste completely disappeared from the Zeitgeist?” – Harold Bloom (interviewed by Charlie Rose).

“Ha ha,” said Wiggly.

“Ha ha indeed,” said the Buddha. “Well played, my friend, well played indeed.”

“Okay, well, look, guys –” I said, but the Buddha interrupted me.

“Listen, Ernest –” he said.

“Ha ha,” said Wiggly again. “Like, ha ha.”

“What?” said the Buddha to Wiggly. “Now what’s so funny?”

“Ha ha, nothing man,” said Wiggly.

“Well, then, I wish you would stop saying ha ha all the time.”

“Like sorry, man, sir, ha ha,” said Wiggly, “I mean, no, check that last ha ha –”

“Whatever,” said the Buddha, and turning to me, “so, anyway, Ernest –”

“Okay, if I can just interrupt you,” I said, Wiggly was holding his hand over his mouth, suppressing laughter, or pretending to do so, “look, Mr. Buddha –”

“Ernest, please,” he said. “What did I tell you. ‘Sid’. Please, call me Sid.”

“Okay, ‘Sid’ –”

“Only because ‘Buddha’ sounds so, what, formal on western lips.”

“Right,” I said.

“And I like to think that we’ve – you and I – have gone beyond the constraints of formality –”

“Sure,” I said.

“Okay, Ernest?” he said.

“All right, that’s the thing,” I said. “You keep calling me Ernest. And I know it’s not important, but –”

“Would you prefer Ernie?”

“Ha ha,” said Wiggly. “Like, oh Christ.”

“What?” said the Buddha, to Wiggly. “Maybe he would prefer to be addressed as Ernie. I fail to see what is so risible about my asking what I think is a considerate civil question.”

“Oh, like, sure, man,” said Wiggly. “Hey, like, Ernest,” he said, addressing me now, “should we like call you Ernie?”

I gave up. I just didn’t care.

“Sure,” I said. “Ernie. Ernie is good. Call me Ernie.”

“Oh, shit.” said Wiggly. “Like you are slaying me, man.”

“What?” said the Buddha. “What is your problem, Wiggly?”

“Like his name’s not Ernest or Ernie, man,” said Wiggly. “It’s Arnold.”

“Arnold?” said the Buddha.

“Arnold, man, sir, Bud,” said Wiggly.

The Buddha turned back to me again.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “Arnold? Arnold is your name?”

“Right, yeah,” I said, “but, look, it’s okay, uh, Mr. Buddh–”

“Sid,” he said.

“It’s okay – Sid,” I said.

“What’s in a name, anyway?” he said.

“I wouldn’t know,” I said.

“We are all one,” he said.

“Sure,” I said. “Okay, I’m going to go now.”

“We are all one as we are all many.”

“Uh-huh –”

“We are all everything,” he said.

“Really?” I said. “Interesting. Well –”

Wiggly had been busy lighting up the big reefer again, and the little Buddha had just kept talking even as Wiggly picked him up and flicked the clicker to light the reefer, and then put him back down on the coffee table. I started to take one sideways step, to get out from between the divan or the couch or whatever it was and the coffee table.

“And nothing,” said the Buddha.

“Pardon me?” I said.

“We are all everything and nothing.”

“Right,” I said. “Sure. Well, look, I really have to –”

“But I didn’t tell you what I wanted to tell you, Ernest.”

“Yes?” I said, letting the Ernest go once and for all.

Wiggly let out a great coughing and hacking cloud of reefer smoke.

The Buddha ignored him, and went on.

“I just wanted to say be careful out there,” he said

“Okay. I’ll try,” I said. 

“Because it’s terribly important that you exist in this mode of existence for a somewhat longer time.”

“It is?” I said.

“Yes,” he said, “humanity needs your wisdom, and your example.”


“Absolutely,” he said. “Who else is there?“

“Uh,” I said. “Well –”

“Don’t look at me,” he said. “I can’t do it anymore.”

“No?” I said.

“No,” he said. “I can’t. Look at me. I’m a cigarette lighter. This is what I’m reduced to. But you, you’ve got a body. Not that a physical body is all that important, the soul is what’s important, but still. Just be careful.”

“Okay,” I said.


“Right,” I said. “I’ll be careful. Bye.”

“Hey, Ernest,“ said Wiggly, he had taken another series of “tokes” on his reefer, and he spoke while still holding in the smoke, “come and visit me anytime, man.”

“Sure,” I said, and since “anytime” might include “no time”, perhaps I was not being completely duplicitous in saying so.

“Remember, Ernest,” said the Buddha, “or ‘Ernie’ if you prefer, whichever road you take will be the road you were meant to take.”

“Meant by who?” I said.

“Meant by ‘whom’,” he corrected me.

“By whom?” I said.

“By the universe,” he said.

“Oh,” I said.

“Which is you,” he said.

“Right,” I said.

“See?” said the Buddha, turning to Wiggly. “Ernie knows.”

“Ha ha,” said Wiggly, in the midst of exhaling another great cloud of reefer smoke in my direction.

“Okay,” I said. “Which way is the door, Wiggly?”

“Through those bead curtains,” said Wiggly, pointing over his right shoulder with his thumb, “go right, you’ll see a door. It’s not locked.”

“Okay,” I said. “Goodbye.”

“Like goodbye, man,” said Wiggly.

“What am I, chopped liver?” said the Buddha.

“Goodbye, Mr. Buddha –”


“I mean Sid,” I said.

“Farewell, my friend,” he said, “and remember, the quickest journey of all is the journey to where you are now.”

“Oh. Right,” I said. “That makes sense. Well –”

“And where you are now is everywhere –”

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“Which is nowhere.”

“Um –”

“Which is –”

“Okay,” I said, “thanks, I’m off then –”

I knew I had to take my leave right that second or I would be stuck here for one thousand eternities, so I shuffled to my left to get around the coffee table and reeled off in the direction Wiggly had indicated, limping from the pain in my hip, but not unbearably. I crashed unceremoniously through the bead curtain Wiggly had indicated, and to the right not too far away was a door. I made it to the door without falling down. I turned the knob, pulled, the door opened, I went out, into a corridor, and I closed the door. The hall was just a drab apartment-building hall, with yellow and brown nubbly paint, faded and stained, electric light fixtures in the ceiling. I saw a stairway about thirty feet to the right. There was no elevator station visible. I preferred stairs anyway. I didn’t think I could have entered an elevator car in my present state. I went to the stairs and started descending.

I’m not sure how many floors I went down, it seemed like a lot, but then my hip was giving me pain, and I was high on reefer and at least somewhat drunk, and so each floor I descended seem to take a half hour to do so, and yet, when I reached the ground floor, which in reality, or in this reality anyway, was probably only six or even five floors down, it seemed as if it had only taken me five seconds to come down from Wiggly’s floor. 

What looked like an entrance foyer was about six feet to the right from the foot of the stairs. There was a door with a pebbled glass window in it.

I went over and opened the door, and sure enough this was a foyer, an old fashioned one, stained tiled floor with a worn ribbed rubber runner, tiled walls, mailboxes with buzzer buttons, another one of those electric light fixtures in the ceiling, a pair of double doors facing me, with the same sort of pebbled glass windows as the inner door. 

So all I had to do was get out of here, and duck over to Bob’s Bowery Bar next door.

Would my friends be there? Maybe not. If they weren’t there I would go somewhere else. Or I would stay there and get drunk, or drunker, provided I had any money to get drunker with.

I was about to close the inner door behind me when I stopped, because I heard voices outside. I heard voices and I saw the shadows of human or at least humanoid creatures on the pebbled glass of the outside doors.

“He’s gotta be somewhere in this fucking building.”

“He better be in this fucking building,” said a second voice.

“If he ain’t in this fucking building then it’s us who’s fucked,” said a third voice.

It was the three hoods, the Toad, the Rat, and what was the other one, the Gorilla?

“Hey, Bear,” said one of the voices.

“What?” said the Bear, right, that was it, Bear not Gorilla, not that it mattered to me what he was called.

“Don’t kill him all at once,” said the first voice. “Not till I get to carve him up a little. Like a Thanksgiving turkey.”

“Sure, Toad,” said the Bear.

“Me too,” said the other voice, this would be the Rat if I was not mistaken. “I want to rearrange his face with my sap. Make him look a fucking Picasso.”

“You got it, Rat,” said the Bear. “Me, I just want to pummel him with my fists. Till his bones turn to the consistency of boiled kasha.”

“I wisht he’d come out already,” said the Toad. “This is fucking boring just standin’ out here.”

“He’ll come out,” said the Rat. “The only way out of this building is this front entrance or that alleyway. He can’t hide in there forever.”

“Maybe he’s got a friend lives in there,” said the Bear.

“Guys like him don’t got no friends,” said the Rat. “All they got is people they owe money to, the punk.”

“After we ice him, you wanta get somethin’ to eat?” said the Toad.

“Sure,” said the Rat. “Soon as we ice him we’ll go next door to Bob’s, phone in to Fat Flo, and then get some burgers and beers or something.”

“They got a good late-night menu there,” said the Bear. “Nightly specials and all.”

“I had a great grilled headcheese sammitch there couple weeks ago,” said the Toad.

I had heard enough. More than enough. I stepped back into the hall, and closed the inner door as quietly as I could behind me.

I stepped away from the door and stood with my back against the wall, facing the staircase to my right, and to the left a hallway, with apartment doors on either side of it.

The landing was well lit by a yellow light-fixture in the shape of a chrysanthemum, above the doorway.

I had the gun in my pocket, but I didn’t want to have to use it if I could help it. And what about the three goons? Did they have guns now? They might have had guns all along. Would I be able to outshoot three professional hoods? That was doubtful. 

I reached in my other jacket pocket and brought out that paperback book that Wiggly had given to me: The Jolly Six Bums, by Horace P. Sternwall.

I looked at the cover painting, the six bums on a country road, one of the bums being me.

Was there another world I could enter inside this book?

It was worth a try.

If it didn’t work there was still the pistol. But would I be able to kill? I didn’t know. On the other hand I was pretty sure the three hoods would be able to kill. And even if I was only a character in a trashy novel, still I wanted to live.

I opened the book.

(Painting by George Ziel.)

(Continued here, and onward, until each and every one of Arnold’s black-and-white marble composition books has been transcribed, with only the most blatant misspellings silently corrected.)

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel: “Call me Sid”

Let’s rejoin our memoirist Arnold Schnabel here in the “pad” of “Wiggly Jones, the little hippie boy”, where the Buddha, in the earthly form of a cigarette lighter, has informed Arnold that Arnold “knows”... 

(Kindly go here to read our immediately preceding episode. If you want to begin at the very beginning please click here to buy
Railroad Train to Heaven: Volume One of the Memoirs of Arnold Schnabel.)

“When one broaches the subject of the great writers of the 20th century, surely one name must reign solitary at the top of the list – yes, even above Joyce, Proust, and Sternwall – and that name is Arnold Schnabel.” – Harold Bloom, in the Entertainment Weekly Literary Supplement.

The Buddha continued to point his finger at me. I wanted to take another drink of the mezcal, but, almost incredibly, I realized that I was getting drunk – or I suppose I should say in all truthfulness, drunker – and, as drunk and “high” as I was, I was still able, even more almost incredibly, to realize that drunkenness might not be my best course of action at the moment, and so, not without a twinge of regret, I put the glass back down on the coffee table. I still held that fat reefer in one hand, and I realized also that smoking more of it was probably also not a wise course of action, and, realizing this, nonetheless I put the reefer to my lips and drew deeply again.

Finally the Buddha lowered his arm and with it the finger he had been pointing at me. He turned to Wiggly.

This guy,” said the Buddha, and he jerked his thumb up in my direction. “You think I know? He knows, man.”

“Yeah, but, like knows what, man?” said Wiggly, and not waiting for me, he reached across the coffee table and took the reefer from my fingers.

This guy,” said the Buddha, “he knows what it took me I don’t know how much self-abnegation, how much fasting, how many discussions with boring-ass wise men, how much weary wandering through hill and fucking dale, how many hours sitting under that goddam Bodhi Tree, just how much shit I went through to find out just the tiniest faintest glimmer of – this fucking guy knows.”

“Wow,” said Wiggly, and he took another great “toke” on the reefer. Holding in the smoke, he squeezed out the constricted words: “That’s deep.”

“You’re fucking right it’s deep,” said the Buddha.

I exhaled the smoke that was in my lungs, it exploded silently into the warm humid air in front of me, obscuring once again both the Buddha and Wiggly, and when the cloud dissolved the Buddha was still sitting there, crosslegged, staring at me again, but smiling now in a way that I think my paperback authors would describe as beatific, if not smug.

“Okay, then,” I said. “Hey, listen, Mr. Buddha –”

“Look, please, Ernest, call me Sid,” said the Buddha. “Buddha is so formal.”

“Sid?” I said, letting the “Ernest” go, for now. 

“Sidd,” he said. “Short for Siddhartha,  just one of my many names. But you can call me Sid.”

Wiggly exhaled his own latest enormous cloud of smoke, and speaking through it, said:


“Yes,” said the Buddha. “Sid.”

“Like Symphony Sid,” said Wiggly. “Or Sid Caesar. Or –”

“Yeah, whatever,” said the Buddha.

“Okay, then, ‘Sid’,” I said. “Listen, uh, here’s my problem. I need to get back to my own universe.”

“Right,” he said. “Your so-called ‘real world’.”

“So you were listening earlier,” I said.

“Of course I was. I listen to everything. Everything and nothing.”

“Great,” I said. “So, listen, I wonder if you could help me.”

“Me help you?” he said. “I am flattered.”

“You are?” I said.

“That a sage like you would think that a humble Buddha like me could help you. Seriously, I am not worthy.”

I didn’t like the sound of this.

“Sure you’re worthy,” I said.

“Yeah, man, Sid,” said Wiggly, “don’t sell yourself short, man. Hey, Herbert –” he saw the look on my face, but before I could scream he said, “just fucking with you, Arnold. Hey, Arnold, you want another hit?”

He held up that big fat reefer, we had only smoked half of it.

I started to reach across to take it, but I had a momentary attack of prudence, or sanity.

“Uh, no,” I said, “I think I’m good right now.”

“Cool,” he said, “we’ll save this fatty for later, like you know, three, four minutes from now,” and very gently he stubbed the reefer out in the ashtray.

“Okay,” I said, trying to regroup, trying not to pick up the glass that still held a shot of mezcal in it, “listen, ‘Sid’, I appreciate what you’re saying, but, still, you are the Buddha, right?”

“Yes, sir,” he said.

“People all over the world look up to you.”

He shrugged.

“Some do,” he said. “A lot don’t. But I can accept that.”

“But like millions do,” I said. “Right?”

“Sure,” he said. “Millions, sure. But what do numbers mean? Nothing really. I mean I’d rather have just one follower who really – what’s the word – who really appreciated what I’m all about, than millions of jackasses who don’t know shit.”

“Okay, sure,” I said, and even while I was saying it, I knew I was wasting my time, but then I was very ‘stoned’ on the reefer, as well as half-drunk, as well as being under a lot of stress, and tired, and, let’d face it, probably raving mad, “but still, I mean, you’ve got a whole religion named after you.”

“Yes,” he said. “And that and a nickel will get me a cup of green tea.”

“Ha ha,” said Wiggly.

I decided just for once to try to get right to the point.

“Please help me, 'Sid',” I said. “You’re the Buddha.”

“I’ll help you,” he said.

“Oh, great, thanks,” I said. “All I want is for you to, like transport me back to my own version of reality, to my own body, in Cape May, New Jersey, in 1963. August, August something –”

He held up his little bronze arm.

“Stop,” he said.

I stopped.

“I said I’ll help you,” he said. “I didn’t say I would transport you to another version of reality.”

“Oh, shit,” I said.

“Ha ha,” said Wiggly.

“No, but I’ll help you,” said the Buddha. 

“Really?” I said, not really believing him.

“Sure I will,” he said.

“How?” I said.

“I will help you by saying that only you have the power to help yourself.”

“Oh, Christ,” I said. I had been afraid it would be something like that.

“Ha ha ha,” said Wiggly.

“Okay,” I said. For no particular reason that I knew of, just to do something, I picked up that paperback novel off the coffee table, The Jolly Six Bums by Horace P. Sternwall. I looked at the cover, the six bums, one of them me. “Okay,” I said again, and I lightly rapped the book on the table top.

“Ha ha,” said Wiggly.

“Yeah,” I said. “Ha ha.”

“See?” said the Buddha, turning to Wiggly. “You see? He gets it.”

“Ha ha,” said Wiggly, again, not actually laughing, just saying ha ha.

The Buddha turned back to me again.

“You know.”

“Right,” I said. I looked at the book’s cover, flipped the pages with my thumb. I wondered if it was any more interesting than the book I was in.

“You wanta borrow that book, man?” said Wiggly. “It’s pretty good.”

“No thanks,” I said.

“Take it, man. Keep it. I don’t believe in owning books, man. Like read it and pass it on to somebody else, y’know?”

“I think that’s a great philosophy, Wiggly,” said the Buddha.

“Hey, man, you know,” said Wiggly. “Whatever.”

I put the book down on the table.

“Okay,” I said. “Uh.”

“Go ahead, ‘Arnold’,” said Wiggly, like that, in quotation marks, as if it really weren’t my name. “Take the book, man.”

“Oh,” I said. “Okay, if you insist, thanks.”

I picked up the book and put it in the left pocket of my seersucker sportjacket.

“I haven’t read a book in a couple of thousand years,” said the Buddha. “I prefer reality.”

“Really?” I said. “Okay. well, look, I’m going to go now.”

“Go where, man?” said Wiggly.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Somewhere.”

“Anywhere is somewhere,” said the Buddha. “And somewhere is everywhere. And it’s all within you. And without you. And it’s –”

“Okay,” I said. I heaved my body up to a standing position, clawing at the thick smoky air with my fingers. I weaved, and wobbled, I almost fell down. I saw that rocks-glass of mezcal way down there on the coffee table. I wanted it, but it was too far away. “So,” I said. Standing up now I became aware of my various aches and pains, in my elbow and throat, my forearm, the back of my head, my hip – annoying in sum, but not debilitating, not yet, anyway. “Thanks for everything, Wiggly.”

“You’re like welcome, man,” said Wiggly.

“And thanks for the advice, uh, Mr. Buddha,” I said to the cigarette lighter.

“Sid,” said the lighter. “Please, call me Sid.”

“Thanks, 'Sid',” I said.

“Thanks for nothing,” I thought, but didn’t say. I saw no good coming from offending the Buddha, even if he was only a cigarette lighter.

“Hey, but, like, Edgar,” said Wiggly.

“His name’s not Edgar,” said the Buddha, Sid, whatever his real name was.

“I know,” said Wiggly. “I was just fucking with him again.”

“Oh,” said the Buddha. “Yes, you Americans and your famous sense of humor.”

“So, Edgar,” said Wiggly, “just watch out for those three hoods out there, man.”

“Three hoods?” said the Buddha.

“Yeah, man, Sid,” said Wiggly. “He got braced by these three hoods in the alley downstairs. He scared them off with a pistol, but I brought him up here in case the hoods were like laying for him somewhere out there.”

“Oh, okay – three hoods,” said the Buddha. “Gee, why were they bracing you, Edgar?”

“Apparently I owe their boss ten thousand dollars,” I said. “Fat Flo I think her name is.”

“Gosh,” said the Buddha, “I hope they’re not still waiting down there.”

“Oh, Christ,” I said.

“Well, be careful, man,” said Wiggly.

“Do you still have your gun?” said the Buddha.

I reached into my jacket pocket, took out the pistol.

“Good,” said the Buddha. “Is it loaded?”

I raised the revolver to my eye level, pointed away from me, and managed to turn the cylinder. It had five chambers for bullets, all of them filled, but one would have been the shot I accidentally had fired earlier.

“It looks like I have four bullets left,” I said.

“Only four,” said the Buddha. “Against three hoods. So you’re going to have to make every shot count. Take my advice, don’t get fancy, aim for the middle of the chest, and don’t fire if they’re more than six feet away, closer preferably.”

“I’m not going to shoot anybody,” I said.

“You might have to, my friend,” said the Buddha. “And I say that as a lifelong pacifist.”

“Yeah, you might have to, man,” said Wiggly. “It’s like self defense, man. And I’m a pacifist, too. But still.”

I put the pistol back in my pocket.

“Wait,” I said. I felt one of my brainwaves coming on. “Wiggly.”

“Yeah, man.”

“Where are we exactly?”

“You mean like in what universe or state of reality, man?”

“No, I mean in what city.”

“New York, man. I thought you like knew that.”

“I don’t know why you would think that,” I said. “What’s that street out there?”

“You mean the Bowery?”

“If that’s what it is, yes.”

“It’s the Bowery,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. "And what is the nearest cross street.”

“To here?”

“Yes,” I said, “what is the nearest cross street to where we are now.”

“That would be like Bleecker street, man. It’s just like one door down to the right, like outside.”

“Bleecker Street,” I said. “Bleecker and the Bowery.”

“You got it, man. You know where you are now?”

“One last question,” I said.

“Fire away,” said Wiggly.

“Is there a bar called Bob’s Bowery Bar next door?”

“Sure, man, it’s right across the alley that you were just in, man.”

“Oh, thank God,” I said.

“Which God?” said the Buddha.

“Any God,” I said.

(Illustration by Rudolph Belarski. Continued here, and onward, until every one of Arnold’s black-and-white marble composition books has been transcribed, with no editing except for the silent correction of the most blatant misspellings.)