Even for a traveling salesman, the set-up was unbelievable--and
would be more fantastic if Madison could only expand his territory one
"Room with a View"
by Rick Richards
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?"
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
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
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
"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
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.
"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
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
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!