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Even for a traveling salesman, the set-up was unbelievable--and would be more fantastic if Madison could only expand his territory one more room.

"Room with a View"

by Rick Richards


Modern Man

July, 1961

     THE BIG WHITE mausoleum with the hundred bay windows, ahead on the left, looks like what I'm not looking for--but like what I can afford. The "Room To Let" sign is the magnet. As a salesman for Consolidated-Jobbers--whose products are on about the same consumer-demand level as poison ivy--a furnished room is the height of luxury on my income. Life with Con-Job is full of downs and downs. 
     I ease my ten-year-old car over to the tree-lined curb in this residential section of Akron, Ohio, scramble out of the rattle-wagon, and mount the steps, laying the knuckles to the wood. I wait, feeling the warm breeze wash over my sweaty neck and listening to the mortuary silence.
     Presently a clip-clop of footsteps approaches and a wrinkled hand parts the lace curtains inside the door. opens it, and a frosty-haired head looks me over top to bottom. "May I help you?" she says.
     It is, so help me, Whistler's Mother!
     "You have a room to rent?" I ask somewhat hesitatingly, half expecting her to shoo me away with a broom.
     "Why, yes. Won't you come in?"
     I dutifully follow her up three flights of stairs, silently cursing myself for not pleading a heart condition and asking if there was a room on the first floor.
     The room she shows me is nice enough, light and airy, with a huge double bed that looks mighty comfortable despite its wrought iron posts, a large closet, a leather lounge chair, a desk, and assorted bureaus, end tables, and lamps. I am, nevertheless, about to plead my heart condition when I hear a soft feminine voice singing sweetly nearby.
     While I puzzle over the sound, Whistler's Mother busily opens the windows, points out the view of tree tops and roof tops, and explains the weekly rent rates. Then she says, "The bath is semi-private. You have to share it with Miss Endicott."
     The old pointed ears come up to attention for a minute. Then I decide that this is too good to be true, that Miss Endicott must be one of those octogenarians who have a sweet young voice until the day they die.
     "But she shouldn't bother you," Mrs. W. says. "Miss Endicott is a very neat and clean young woman." And with that she opens the door to the connecting bathroom to disclose a bright and sparkling lavatory which I don't even notice since I am gandering the bright and sparkling young Miss Endicott who, in a tight-fitting slip, is bent over the bed in the far room straightening the covers.
     "Pardon me," says Mrs. Whistler, "I didn't realize that Miss Endicott had her door open." Mrs. W. is blushing.
     "Oh, did she?" I say, my most innocent look wreathing my face like a benign monk. And at the same time I mentally catalogue the numbers 38-23-37 for future verification.
     "I think you'll find it very pleasant living here, Mr. . . . er, Mr. . . .
     I silently second her appraisal of my prospects beneath her roof and put her out of her misery by answering, "Madison. Lincoln Madison. My friends call me Line."
     Normally I will scream and lash out at anyone who says, "What a wonderful name. Two of our most renowned presidents." But my mind is in the other room still fondling my new roommate. And 1 didn't even tell Mrs. Whistler my middle name.
     My wallet is in my hand, and I am shelling out one of my last few bills to my new landlady. I am so high on anticipation that the three flights of stairs, at the moment, seem like nothing more than a high curb.
     Half an hour later, after three grueling trips to transfer all my bags and sample cases, I am too bushed to even enjoy my new neighbor's charms mentally. I flop on the spongy mattress and drift into dreams where exhaustion gives way to frustration--the frustration which I suffer in dreaming of my attempts to consummate our friendship. The friendship of my eyes for her buttocks.
     I awake to the sing-song of her pleasant voice amid the sound of water splashing in the tub. This reality is just a continuance of my dreams; there is still a wall between us. A wall which I, Sir Layalot, must topple in order to win the body (I'm a real modern Sir Lancelot) of fair Guinevere.
     No walls are toppled that morning. In fact it's over half an hour before I can even get into the bathroom to shave, and while I am taking a fast shower Miss Endicott exits the premises and I am left to my dreams again as my only consolation. And consolation is small potatoes, Dad, for a healthy guy who seeks consummation.
     A day of beating my head against Buyers' walls leaves me none-the-richer except in experience, and I eagerly speed my way homeward to what I hope will be Step One in my conquest of Miss Endicott.
     At nine p.m., after spending four hours sitting perched on the edge of my bed waiting to spring up at the first sound in the hall that might be approaching high heels, I grudgingly give in to the rumblings of my stomach and go out for some dinner.
     I return one hour later to hear her bathroom door close as I start up the last flight of stairs, and as my eyes come level with our floor her lights go out.
     Damn, and double damn! I face another night of frustration, and this one sees me tossing and turning as a result of too sound a sleep the night before. When I finally do conk out it is to a much more pleasant and rewarding dream than previous nights.
     The alarm wakes me at a moment of noncrucial relaxation in my dreaming, which you must admit is a change from the norm. I roll out of bed with all the enthusiasm of a satiated rabbit (which is fully in keeping with the subject matter of my dream) and drag my weary bones into the bathroom to shower and shave. I cheer my flagging spirits with the thought that by setting my clock for an hour earlier than I had heard the sounds of Miss Endicott's ablutions the day before, I will be ready to leave (by coincidence) at the exact instant that she does on this bright and anticipatory morning.
     I put on the Sunday-Best for the impending meeting and leap to the bait of her footsteps entering the hall. Halfway down the stairs I catch up with the paramour of my dreams and say:
     "Beautiful day, isn't it?"
     She turns the baby blues on me anxiously, "It's raining out!"

     My sensational opening speech has taken off like a lead balloon because I neglected to look out the window. I debate using the corny, 'I'm referring to the sunshine of your smile,' but a second look at this svelte young chick puts that squaresville type of chatter to doom.
     "My name's Madison. Lincoln Madison." 
     "What a won..." she hesitates.
     "...derful name." I finish for her, gritting my teeth. "Two of our most renowned Presidents."
     "I was trying not to finish it," she says. And this time a slow, shy lifting of the ends of her lips gradually blossoms into a full-mile that lights up her entire face. The plump little lips open to reveal the expected set of pearly-whites lined up to perfection. The eyes dance, the nose crinkles up, and I almost fall down the rest of the stairs. She catches me with a steadying hand.
     "My friends," I manage, "call me Line." 
     "Gwen," she says. "Gwen Endicott." She accepts my offer to drive her to work and after nagging her halfway there she reluctantly agrees to breakfast with me. Over bacon and eggs we become better acquainted and find we have many interests in common, and when I finally drop her at the door of her office there is no doubt in my mind that her covert glances at my manly physique denote a more than passing interest. Therefore I am flabbergasted when my request for a date that evening or the next is flatly turned down. There are no friendship or engagement rings, nor slave bracelets visible, so I am at a loss to figure out why she refused. But I am no quitter and decide she must be simply playing it cool. Try, try again, I tell myself.
     A week later; seven morning meetings; and I am still in the same enviable and unenviable spot. Enviable because we share the same bathroom. And unenviable because I still haven't been able to break her down enough to let me set her up for the Dine and Dance to lead to Romance bit. After the seventh strike-out I surmise that perhaps our grandparents had met and her grandmother had told her what my maternal grandfather had told me.
     "Never," the old gentleman had instructed me on the occasion of my reaching the age of puberty, "deposit your rectal excretion in your own courtyard."
     Her grandmother no doubt put it more delicately, but the girl-version adds up to Don't give the opportunity to the guy who is in the ideal location!
     I'd probably have a better chance if I lived elsewhere. But at the same time I'd have less of a chance. It's confusing, but I'm double damned if I'm going to give up the ideal location on the off-chance it will aid my efforts.
     She is a study in contrasts, the epitome, it seems, of indecision. She'll hesitate, lowering her eyes, as she nixes my bid for a date as if she no more wants to turn me down than I want her to. Over coffee she'll take two cigarettes from my pack, light them and hand me one. Then, if I hold it and study the crimson stain of her lipstick and put it against my lips with all the tenderness of a gentle lover's kiss, she'll get red as a fireplug and as flustered as a school-girl. She'll drop her hand onto mine in stressing a point in her conversation, the warmth of it sending shivers along my spine, and then remove it as if she'd been burned when she noticed where it was. She seems, to my trained eyes to be torn by mixed emotions. There is in her both a desire and a fear of getting w know me better.
     She is like the famous Tower of Pisa. She has certain leanings but she tries her darnedest to always remain upright. It is my job (and my intention and hope) to prone the throne.
     She breakfasts with me almost every morning, and twice we have even lunched together. But dinner is out. And drinks and dancing. So I decide if I can't break her down from the usual left-field approaches, I'll storm the line of resistance head on. Step One will come tomorrow morning.
     It is a palsied and bloodshot-eyed Sir L. who meets her on the steps. The shakes are faked and a brisk rubbing has achieved the desired bloodshot look in my eyes.
     "Are you ill, Line?" she bites!
     "No," then, hesitantly, "did I disturb you late last night?"
     The look of concern for me that sweeps across her face almost, but not quite, makes me feel guilty. Her face also shows a mixture of dismay at my last remark.
     "Disturb me?"
     "I...well, you see, I..."
     "Yes," she prompts me.
     "It's just that I had a scare last night. You see...well, I'm a somnambulist. I
walk in my sleep."
     "Oh!" Her lips open in a little circle, one that tempts me to kiss her that instant and explore that oval of red temptation.
     "Whenever I eat spaghetti, and I love it, well, for some strange reason it seems to trigger my somnambulism, and I'm off on a long walk."
     "And you did it last night?"
     "I had spaghetti." My lowered eyes gave me the properly contrite expression. "And I woke up when I slipped on the bathroom floor late last night. It's dangerous to wake a somnambulist you know. And waking that way, by falling, is equally bad."
     "In the bathroom, you said?"
     "Yes," I reply, blushing (by holding my breath till I almost burst) "a sleepwalker usually tries to go someplace where he subconsciously wants to be. I...I thought, maybe I'd tried to open your door."
     She blushes too, but I note that her breasts are heaving most enticingly, fighting the restraint of her now too-confining blouse in the attempt to fill her lungs with air.
We say no more on the subject.
     I let the information I'd given her sink in. I make no attempt to further my interests for the next few days. I let her think. And I confine myself to the conquest of her in my dreams. In dreams, where that body that was built for love does not deny itself any erotic pleasures. The vibrant breasts heave themselves about in careless abandon, the lips kiss me wildly, the hair that falls shoulder length drowns me in its gossamer veil. In my dreams.
     This morning, for the first time in a week, I ask Gwen to have dinner with me. She says yes. Voila!
     But only dinner, she says; she wants to get to bed early.
     It is a bright and happy day as I make my calls. And for the first time with Con-Job, I'm selling like a firecracker salesman on the Fourth of July. I think the look of success on my face has been interpreted by the buyers to mean my products are selling, and they don't want to miss the boat on hot merchandise.
     By three p.m., my order book is damp with perspiration from my hands. I take the rest of the afternoon off and go shopping, stocking up on items I have long learned to do without: mouth wash, talc, new pajamas, etc. I get some weirdo glances from my constant humming, but what the hell!
     At five-thirty, I pick up Gwen at work and ask, "Where do we dine?"
     "At home," she says. "What?"
     "It's been so long since I've cooked, I thought this would be a good chance. Come to my room about half past six, and I'll sit you down to a dinner I'm sure you'll like." 
     "Don't worry," she laughs, "I'm not bad." 
     Well, I think, this has put a kink in my plans. Or has it? I was going to make a point of ordering spaghetti tonight. It was going to be my alibi when I wandered into her room. And I had hoped she wouldn't wake me until the following morning. But then, on the other hand, if I am already in her room, she may just forget to ask me to leave. And who would need spaghetti? I'll just have to wait and see, but the uncertainty has slightly flagged my spirits.
     The evening flashes by too swiftly, even for me. It starts when I enter her room via the hallway (the bathroom entrance seems rather drollish at the time) and sit down on a leather chair next to which Gwen has thoughtfully placed a large glass of good wine. (It disturbs me that the room has no couch: and it disturbs me even more, but in a different way, that it has a bed--a bed which stands out from all the furniture like a big out-of-place but meaningful object.)
     Gwen opens the laundry chute and removes a covered tray of food, which she explained she prepared downstairs in the kitchen and sent up on the laundry platform. "Just like a hotel's dumb waiter," she says, spreading the plates on a card table. "Our landlady is very nice to consent to this sort of thing, don't you think?"
The landlady, I have decided, is a dear. Very naive, but a dear.
     Gwen was indeed a good cook. The meal was delicious, and now at nine-thirty she is in my arms for a long, lingering, warm, inviting kiss. Full of mutual desire, and a promise of fulfillment. A kiss that is shared not only by our lips and tongues, but by our yearning bodies.
     Then, just at the moment when I am about to guide her backwards onto the bed; just at the moment when she seems at the height of passion--just at that moment she suddenly pushes me through the door, says a quick "Good night!" and shuts it.
     I weave my way into my room walking on a cushion of air about six inches above the floor. "So she wants it this way," I mutter to myself. I toss my coat on the chair. I loosen my tie and examine the lipstick smears on my shirt. I kick off my shoes, remove my cuff links, and light a cigarette, enjoying its smooth calming effect as its smoke winds down into my lungs. "Six of one," I mutter, "half dozen of the other."
     I listen as Gwen bathes and sings in the tub. The thought of her bathing naked in the sweet smelling bubble bath I know she uses titillates me, but in a much different way than usual.
     When I hear her return to her room, in a record-short time, I shower and shave, also in a record-short time. I look smilingly at the key that hangs from the bathroom side of her door, return to my room and lie on the bed in my new pajamas and silk bathrobe, enjoying a last cigarette in the darkness before...
     I'm just going to take a couple more drags on this cigarette, think about how deliciously Gwen prepared that spaghetti dinner, and take off for the dreamland just two unlocked doors away! 

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