|Leaving Small’s Hotel|
YOU CAN READ
A Case of the Family Illness
generally spends an hour or so reading in bed after she wakes up, then
gets out of bed, pulls her workout wear on, runs seven circuits of the
island, lifts her weights, showers, eats a light breakfast (a banana and
an English muffin, for example) in the dining room, takes her dishes to
the kitchen and discusses the day’s menu with Suki, and then carries her
second mug of coffee to the reception desk. I gave her enough time
to get through all of that and then came down the front stairs to the entrance
hall, where I found her behind the reception desk, drinking her second
mug of coffee and looking through the reservation book. The phone
THE TWO SURVIVING TINKERS showed up in the afternoon to take a look
at the roof. Al and I gave them our condolences, and Al gave them
each a hug.
AFTER DINNER, in the lounge, Lou stood the entire crowd of eight to a round of drinks from our well-stocked bar, and I read episode five of Dead Air, “A Case of the Family Illness.”
SUFFER from a couple of forms of inherited mental illness that have been
passed along on both sides of my family for generations. We get the
idea that we can do things that a moment’s reflection ought to tell us
we cannot, and we are easily sidetracked.
To give you just one example: once, when I was about twelve, I got the idea that I could build a tape recorder. I had come into possession of a recorded tape, but I had no means of playing it and didn’t have enough money to buy a tape recorder, so I decided to build one. If this seems preposterous to you, you probably have a good grip on reality and are not related to me.
Not only did I suppose that I could build a tape recorder, but I expected to be able to build it out of common household junk. If that seems unlikely to you, then you have never come across a copy of Impractical Craftsman Magazine. I think it is safe to say that this magazine has been responsible for more wasted hours of labor in the basement workshops of America than any other single cause.
I walked to the drug store to get the latest issue. It had just arrived, but the stock boy hadn’t put it on the rack yet. Men with nothing better to do were lined up at the coffee counter, waiting, staring into their cups with the desperate empty eyes of the addicted. I took a stool at the end of the line and ordered a coffee fizz (a shot of coffee, a shot of cream, a glass full of seltzer). When the stock boy emerged from the stockroom with a bundle of magazines in his hands, the men rose and followed him. So did I.
“All right, all right, stand back,” the boy said. He removed the last few dog-eared copies of last month’s issue and began, slowly, putting this month’s in its place.
The cover offered to show one how to “Build a Photo Enlarger from War Surplus Bomb Sight!”
I wasn’t going to be sidetracked by that. I had already tried to go into the photography business, and once was enough. From a company that advertised in Impractical Craftsman, I had ordered a Deluxe Developing Kit and E-Z Darkroom Instructions. To give myself something to do while I was enduring the pain of waiting for the kit to arrive, and to recover its cost, I advertised myself as an expert in photographic services. I had a little printing set — actually a Little Giant printing set — from another enthusiasm, another ad. With it, I printed some flyers, and I distributed them throughout the neighborhood.
When the kit and instructions arrived, I set up a basement darkroom (omitted here are details concerning additional costs for materials not supplied in the kit and the expenditure of considerable labor, the need for which was never mentioned or even implied in the advertisement, unless I somehow misunderstood the meaning of “E-Z”) and picked up a roll of film from my first customer, Mrs. Jerrold, who lived around the corner (or across the street or down the block).
I’m sure you have already guessed the outcome. I worked on her pictures for an afternoon, and then I gave up. I put the results, such as they were, into an envelope, walked to Mrs. Jerrold’s house, and knocked on her back door.
“I have your pictures,” I said when she opened it.
“Oh, good!” she said. “I can’t wait to see them. There should be some nice shots from our vacation.”
“Yeah, there probably were,” I said.
“Not all of them came out.”
“A couple of them came out.”
“And some of them came out partway.”
“There was a really good one of you in a bathing suit,” I said with genuine enthusiasm.
“Yeah. I was trying to get it just perfect, you know, really perfect, but at first it was sort of too light, and then it was still too light, and then it was a little too dark, and then it was black.”
“Oh,” she said. I could see her disappointment in the furrows that formed on her forehead and the way she pouted her lips. For a moment I thought she might cry. I felt awful.
“It’s all my fault,” I said.
“Don’t be silly,” she said, tousling my hair and trying to assume the air of a woman who considers the self-esteem of an adolescent boy who has a crush on her far more important than mementoes of the only family vacation she will take all year. “I’m a terrible photographer. Most of my pictures don’t come out. I’m sure you did the best you could, the best anybody could, and besides, everybody makes mistakes.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“How much do I owe you?”
“Oh — no charge.”
“I must owe you something.”
“No, no. We only charge if the whole roll comes out. That’s our policy.”
I closed up shop. From then on, I entrusted all my developing-and-printing work to Himmelfarb’s photography shop, conveniently located in the heart of downtown Babbington.
The equipment remained in the basement, but it began a shuffle toward the farthest corner. All the equipment abandoned in the cellar — the gear for my mother’s failed projects, my father’s failed projects, and my failed projects — shuffled miserably, humiliated, under pressure from the equipment required by our new projects, into the corners, where it accreted in heaps.
There were no plans for a tape recorder in Impractical Craftsman or the other do-it-yourself magazines. For a moment I was tempted by the idea of building the enlarger, since I knew that we had a surplus bomb sight in the cellar left over from my father’s attempt to build a theodolite and make big money in surveying, but Cellar Scientist magazine had plans for a flying-saucer detector, and I decided to build that instead.
SOON AS we were under the covers, Albertine said, “The boiler is on its
“What happened to ‘Good night, my darling, I love you a zillion’?” I asked.
“It’s the scale.”
“Okay, a billion. I can understand that we’ve got to cut back — ”
“The scale in the boiler.”
“The tinkers have been saying that for fifteen years.”
“And they’ve been right for fifteen years.”
“Will it keep limping along until the place is sold?”
“Who knows? That scale keeps building up, so we’re actually putting a lot of our money into heating the scale rather than making steam, and the pressure keeps creeping up because we have to push the steam through these pipes that are being progressively narrowed by scale — ”
“High boiler pressure, the silent killer.”
“It’s like the accumulation of cholesterol plaque in atherosclerosis — ”
“So we could suffer a boiler attack.”
“Aye, yi, yi.”
“And the roof really needs to be completely reshingled — ”
“Good night, my darling,” I said. “I love you a zillion.”
Here are a couple of swell ideas from Eric Kraft's vivacious publicist, Candi Lee Manning:
Tip the author.
You can toss a little something Kraft's way through the Amazon.com Honor System or PayPal.
We'll send you notifications of site updates, new serials, and Eric Kraft's public lectures and readings. Just fill in this form and click the send-it button.
DO YOU HAVE YOUR COPY?
Leaving Small’s Hotel is published in paperback by Picador, a division of St. Martin's Press, at $14.00.
You should be able to find Leaving Small’s Hotel at your local bookstore, but you can also order it by phone from:
Bookbound at 1-800-959-7323You can order it on the Web from Amazon.com Books.
Copyright © 1998 by Eric Kraft
Leaving Small’s Hotel is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
Leaving Small’s Hotel was first published on May 11, 1998, by Picador USA, a division of St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10010.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, contact Alec “Nick” Rafter at Manning & Rafter Advertising, Promotion, Public Relations & Used Cars.