February 5th is National Wear Red Day, or Shower With a Friend Day. There are much more serious International Days the 5th is set aside for, but the challenge at this point in its growth is not a place to explore those quite yet.
Not sure if this qualifies as flash fiction or maybe it’s just self-delusion, but it is one of my favorite stories from childhood and does involve a shower with friends.
Just prior to our sophomore year in college, my brother and I both were working for Mac Crawford, the owner of Crawford’s Café. Crawford’s was located in the heart of downtown Valley City. Eugene was the assistant manager and I was a fry cook/dishwasher. At night, we both cleaned the floors. Since we were “men of position”, we came to the conclusion that we should move out of our parent’s home and rent our own apartment. After an extensive search of the city, we found our dream home; Apt #315, near the top floor of Zac’s Rudolf Hotel. It was apparent we were a couple of young businessmen preparing to live high in the hog.
Zac’s was not the newest building on the block. In fact, it was built around the turn of the century and had been unsuccessfully remodeled a number of times. However the building was sound and the fire escapes seemed solid. Our apartment was in the interior and had a perfectly lovely view of the buildings airshaft. Heat, water, and electricity were included in the rent along with furnishing that looked the same as anything we had seen in some of our friend’s rented trailers.
Now you would think that our parents would be glad to see their youngest children move on with their lives and strike out on their own. You would think that it would be a special time with perhaps a speech or two about the beauty of birds flying the coop. But, apparently we caught our mother on a bad day! I think she may have had a problem with our bragging about our fine apartment and what a wonderful time we would have there. Apparently, she thought we were not sincerely thankful enough about the care we received during the preceding 19 years of our lives. Or the idea we were dropping out of college to work full time for Crawford’s Corner.
Luckily, our mother’s temper seemed to cool. She started helping us gather up our belongings. Unfortunately, we realized much too late that her “help” meant all of our possessions were thrown on the lawn in front of our house. It was clear she intended to jettison all of our possessions, including old baseball mitts, school annuals, tennis racquets, basketballs along with the contents of our dressers and closets to the lawn. It was to be a clean sweep for my parents and an entertaining sequence of events for the neighbors to observe.
We collected two truckloads of belongings and move them all to our new abode. There we sorted through the sum of our existence, placing them into “keep” and “throw” piles. Within an hour the deed was done, we were organized, lean and mean.
There was only one small problem, although the apartment was furnished, we still had no dishes, sheets, towels and the other various little things that make a room a home. Luckily our old neighbors had witnessed our exit from our family home and noticed what with us or, more importantly, wasn’t with us. In a very neighborly show of support, they went through their basements and put together a package of old towels, dishes, and silverware. Although the towels didn’t match and we had, at least, seven different patterns of dishes, we were grateful for their generosity.
Even though our beginning was humble; we still managed to impress our friends with our gracious manners. For our female friends, it was candlelit dinners for two, featuring sloppy joes, green beans (French cut of course) accompanied by grape popsicles for dessert. For the guys, there was always beer and cards if they brought the beer.
And who could forget our famous sauna parties; twelve people standing in our bathroom with the hot shower running full blast with the electric floorboard heater set on high. For a really special occasion, we had a can of evergreen room freshener that we would spray on the towels. We spared no expense when it came to our guests.
We also organized night time excursions; these trips were renowned, including our famous “Bummer Festival”. Eight people locked into the spacious confines of my brother’s 1972 AMC Gremlin, drinking beer, listening to Lawrence Welk on the eight-track player while cruising city streets and back alleys. These were truely “Wunnerful, Wunnerful” times.
Because we worked at the restaurant we did not store much food in the apartment. That was fortunate because it became apparent that we were not alone in space. Late at night, we could here skittering in the kitchen. When we snapped on the lights, small shadows disappeared under the counters and cracks along the floor.
Once I went down to the lobby to pick up a newspaper. The lobby contained a check in counter for the customers. It was also where cigarettes, newspapers and snacks were stored always available for sale to the traveling salesmen who frequented the hotel. While talking to the night clerk, a large brown bug, about an inch and a half long sporting long antennas came sauntering out of the wall. The insect didn’t seem to be afraid of the clerk nor did the clerk appear overly concerned about the bug; the creature just continued to walk along the counter top, past the newspapers, candy bars and finally went under an old display case. Neither I nor the clerk mentioned the visitor. I just handed him a quarter and he gave me my change along with a newspaper.
While we lived in relative luxury on the top floor, Zac’s also provided a home on the lower floors for an odd assortment of single “retired” men. They had seen a lot in their lives and had drunk even more. Now their journeys took them only as far as the wooden chairs surrounding the lobby. They occupied these from afternoon until early morning, with a few breaks to obtain and share some spirits with their friends.
They on occasion would share sage advice as the other patrons entered and exited the building. Some of the advice might have been described as “caustic”, the rest, especially as the day became late, was just plain incomprehensible. One particular resident named “Sarge” had style! Although his suits could have done with a cleaning, it was apparent that they were expensive at one time. He favored woolen double-breasted pin-stripped suits and most of the time carried a walking stick, which steadied his gait. Towards late evening, Sarge held the stick with both hands and planted it firmly on the carpet, as he leaned his back against the wall, no doubt reinforcing the building. If Sarge had a very good day, his hold on the building would release and he would weave his way back to his room to sleep. On most days, he would just crumple into a chair and remain there for the night.
It was on one of those nights, that I and a friend entered the hotel with two young ladies we had brought back to the apartment from a party. My friend and I had started drinking beer very early in the day and these girls wanted to be sure we had gotten back to the penthouse safely. As we passed, Sarge stirred and eyed the young ladies. He turned to us and said very loudly, “Boy! You’ve brought home a couple of ugly ones tonight!” I realized Sarge might not be as drunk as he seemed and that I might have been the one who had too much to drink that night.
All good things have to end and so did our stay at Zac’s. Eugene went on to Chef’s School and I soon returned to higher education. While the stay at Zac’s was short, it will always hold a special place in our memories for a first home away from home.