|Leaving Small’s Hotel|
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Kap’n Klam’s Salad Sandwich
SPENT THE DAY going around the hotel touching up the paint where leaks had stained the ceilings and in the thousand little places where the walls had taken a beating, and for quite a while I felt content, almost elated. Painting does that to me. The task is simple. The product of the task is smooth and clean and attractive. During the work the mind is free to wander. When the task is over, or even when a small but significant part of the task is over, the painter is justified in taking a moment to admire the work, and to praise the painter who did it. I generally count as a significant part of the task the obliteration of any one stain, nick, gouge, or smudge, so I spend much of my painting time in self-congratulation, but I feel that I deserve it. On this occasion, however, the mind, free as it was to wander, wandered to some places I would rather not have gone. I found myself thinking about Matthew Barber. I would rather not have been thinking about Matthew, and I hadn’t meant to think about Matthew, but other thoughts had led me to him, subterranean thoughts. I had been trying to recall everything I could about the cave we had dug together, once upon a time, when we were boys, a couple of adolescent troglodytes, because I intended to include the cave later in Dead Air. In recalling the cave, I found myself “recrawling” the cave, making my way on hands and knees along the corridors that branched from its vestibule. Each of these corridors was the work of a different digger, and each led to a private place, its digger’s den. In the course of my recollective crawling, I arrived at Matthew’s chamber, his sanctum. Its boy-built door was secured with a boy-built lock. Matthew wasn’t inside—I knew that—but his secrets were inside—I knew that, too. I picked the boy-built lock, and I violated his privacy, and I discovered his secrets. I remembered, and I was ashamed. I quit painting for the day.
THE SOUND OF EXUBERANT HAMMERING was coming from the roof. I went
outside, walked backwards away from the hotel until I could see figures
up there, and called out, “Yo, Tinkers!”
THERE WERE NINE at my reading of episode ten of Dead Air, “Kap’n Klam’s Salad Sandwich,” since the tinkers made it off the roof safely and stayed to hear what I had to say, and Suki joined the group, too.
OF THE CONFERENCES that Porky White and I held at his clam bar had the
same theme: how to fill the place with happy diners, eating clams with
gusto and spending with abandon. In the effort to make that dream
come true, Porky changed the name from Captain White’s to Kap’n Klam; he
and I snapped candid photographs of people who seemed to be smiling as
they ate and tacked them up on a Wall of Happy Diners; and he continually
tried to invent recipes that would bring clams the wide acceptance that
hamburgers enjoyed. The worst of these, I think, was the clam salad
“This,” he said, putting a plate in front of me, “is going to bring people in. It’s going to make this place famous.”
“Wow,” I said. I lifted an edge of the bread and saw clams and mayonnaise—quite a lot of mayonnaise.
“Looks great, I know,” he said, “but the proof of the pudding is in the eating—take a bite.”
I took a bite. I chewed.
“Well?” he asked.
I swallowed. “It’s—um—chewy,” I said.
“Hmm. Is it too chewy?”
“You think I should cook the clams?”
“Maybe,” I said, still chewing.
“What about the flavor?”
I took another bite. I chewed. I swallowed. “It’s—um—got lots of mayonnaise,” I said.
“And a little minced celery! That’s the beauty of it, I think. It’s simple. Elegant. It’s going to be a huge success.”
“Could be,” I said. “Could be.”
Four people walked into the clam bar, and Porky called out to them, “Good afternoon, folks! Take a pew, any pew. It’s your lucky day! I’ve got something special I want you to try, on the house!”
He slid the plate away from me, cut the remains of the clam salad sandwich into bite-size pieces, and brought it over to the booth where the people had seated themselves. “My own invention!” he said. He set the plate in the middle of the table. We all looked at it in silence for a moment. Then Porky announced, “The clam salad sandwich!” The four people looked at one another. “Just sample that,” said Porky, “and I’ll be back in a minute to take your order.”
He hustled me back to the counter, where he got the camera for the Wall of Happy Diners, my camera, on loan to the establishment for an unspecified period.
“Take this,” he said, “and when I ask them how they like the sandwich, snap their pictures.”
“Okay,” I said.
We walked back to the booth. The remains of the clam salad sandwich lay on the plate in the center of the table. Some pieces were gone, some were half-eaten, some were intact. “So, folks,” asked Porky, “what do you think?”
I was ready with the camera.
They looked at Porky, and they looked at one another, and then one of them, a man slouching into a corner of the booth, said, “You know, I think I’ll have one of these clam salad sandwiches.” He pointed at it.
“Yes, sir!” said Porky. He pulled his order pad out of his back pocket. “One clam salad sandwich.”
“With lettuce and tomato.”
“Lettuce and tomato.”
“And some sliced onion.”
“Hold the clams.”
Together, the group burst out laughing.
“See?” Porky said to me. “They love it! Get that picture.”
I snapped it.
“Rush that right down to Himmelfarb’s,” said Porky. He stuck his hand in his pocket and handed me the money he found there. “And get the rush service. I want that picture on the Wall of Happy Diners as soon as possible.”
Today, of course, a new Kap’n Klam restaurant opens somewhere in the world every fifteen minutes, and you’ll find a Wall of Happy Diners in every one. Most of the photographs are taken locally, but every wall has some classic photographs from the early days of the chain, including the one that I took of the four people laughing over the original clam salad sandwich, and on the menu board in every Kap’n Klam restaurant from Kankakee to Karachi you will find these listings:
Kap’n Klam’s Klam Salad Sandwich
(Try One—It Will Make You Laugh!)
Kap’n Klam’s Salad Sandwich
(If You Do Not Kare for Klams)
IT OKAY if I ask a question?” asked Alice.
“Sure,” I said. “Questions are encouraged.”
“Two questions, really.”
“Was there a clam salad sandwich?”
Albertine, Suki, and I burst out laughing.
“No,” I said, “but there is now,” and Suki produced, from the bar refrigerator, a platter of canape-sized clam salad sandwiches. We all tried them, at least a bite, and I discovered that clam salad was as revolting a concoction as I had imagined it would be.
“Next question?” I said to Alice.
She spread her sandwich open, looked at the mix inside, and grimaced. “Is this one of those things—you know—where you say there are two kinds of people? People who like clams and people who don’t?”
“Hmm. I’m not sure that I—”
“So the people who like clams would be the ones who like a laugh,” said Lou.
“And the ones who do not ëkare’ for clams are the ones with no sense of humor,” said Alice.
“You’re either a Baldy or a Bob,” said Lou. “Is that it?”
“Maybe,” I said. “Why not?”
ON THE WAY UPSTAIRS, I noticed all the stains, nicks, gouges, and smudges
I’d missed when I was touching up, and with every flaw I noticed, the way
up the stairs became harder. Maybe the hotel was beyond patching
and touching up, and maybe my life was just as shabby, stained, and leaky
as this old hotel—and beyond mending.
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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.
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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.
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