Monday, March 25, 2013

Tuba & Drum, Slowly: Chapter 1: Optimist

When the tuba nearly fell off the cart on which it had barely been perched and when Tommy helped catch the tuba and looked into the woman's eyes as he did so, he almost but not quite fell out of love with McKinley and into love with the woman with the tuba.

Almost, but not quite.

The woman with the tuba also had a drum, and both were on a cart that the resort made available for guests to bring their luggage in but nobody ever used the carts themselves because bellhops like Tommy were standing around the lobby waiting to do that for them.

"I've got this, miss. Uh, ma'am," Tommy told the lady with the tuba, who smiled and thanked him and wiped her forehead under her bangs and stood up straight and sighed, which had the effect of seeming to wipe off her mood like erasers cleaned a blackboard, the vestiges of it still visible but ready for something new.

Her husband, it must have been, looked back long enough to make sure Tommy and the woman had things right and then continued walking and fumbling with his wallet and his own suitcase as they crossed the grand lobby of the Marquis Resort And Hotel to check in.

It could take as long as twenty seconds to cross the lobby and when one did so, as Tommy did hundreds of times per day (in season), one walked across carpet that appeared lush, still, but which was slowly getting thinner and thinner and more threadbare, carpet that once was deep crimson but had muted to a burgundy that did not glow in the shafts of sunlight that streamed down from different angles in widening rectangles from the upper reaches of the three-stories-high lobby.  The burgundy of the carpet did not invite one to walk on it but sat idly, as did the man who, on the far side of the lobby, watched as his brother and his brother's wife walked around the edges of the scattered furniture clumps, some in sunlight and some in the sort of hazy shadows that can exist but barely in between so much other light, his brother walking ahead and carrying a small suitcase while his brother's wife helped the bellhop with the tuba and the drum and a small cloth duffel bag that sat between them on the cart.

This man had been sitting there for nearly an hour, largely unnoticed even by the bellhops, who paid little attention to guests who drew little attention to themselves.  This man was named Carter, and he was the exact middle of the five children who were reuniting here on the island where Dad used to take them for summer getaways, up until Carter was seven years old and they hadn't come here anymore, after that.

Carter wondered if Dad would come to the Eisenhower's reunion.  Carter almost hadn't come himself, but had decided he'd better, after all, and in his pocket, Carter felt the folded pieces of yellow legal pad, densely covered with a handwritten speech, written in blue ink on his lap while he'd sat in the airport in San Francisco, on the legal pad he'd taken out of his briefcase for just that purpose, before leaving the pad, the pen, and the briefcase sitting on the seat and getting on to the plane with nothing more than a paperback book he'd bought at the airport.

Carter wondered if Zoe -- that was her name, Zoe was Harry's wife -- would turn out to be nice, as his mother had once said she was, or flaky, as his father had said she was.  The presence of the tuba and the drum and the duffel bag argued equally forcefully in both directions.

He watched them as they neared the desk where Tommy moved quickly to shore up the balance of the packages on the cart and offered to take Harry's bag, too (Harry gave it to him idly and without much other thinking, focusing on handing his credit card to the desk clerk).  It was only moments at the desk, both Harry and the clerk frowning at the machine which read credit cards for the few seconds before it spit out a receipt, and then key cards were passed over and Harry, Zoe, and Tommy moved unsteadily with the cart, with its tuba and its drum and its duffel bag and its small suitcase, off of the burgundy carpet and onto the hard-tiled floors towards the elevators near the desk.

Carter watched them watching the numbers above the elevator.  There were only three numbers, and only two elevators, both showing that they were on the third floor, where other Eisenhowers were staying, as well, Harry the last of them to check in, unless his father was going to show up, which many of them suspected he would not, gathering from the comments dropped in emails and conversations hammering this weeklong reunion out:

"...Dad's got that meeting"

"Mom never liked the place, and if she won't go Dad won't that's why we stopped going there, remember" -- that one from Lily, who never used punctuation and who, when questioned about it once by Carter said "I'm a stay at home mom.  Punctuation is for offices.  You try raising kids and see if you worry about semicolons."

Carter had two children and used semicolons.

The twos changed simultaneously to ones and both elevator doors opened.  A family got off of one, and the Eisenhowers and Tommy got onto the other.  After a pause, during which Carter could see the tuba, and Tommy, but neither Zoe nor Harry, the doors shut and he watched as first the two lit up, and then the three lit up.

He wondered what room they were in, and decided it didn't matter.  He had not checked in under his own name, anyway, and was staying on the first floor, near the back, one of the few rooms one could get on the first floor.  From his room, he could see down the lawn to the old battlements, a wall and tower that stood above a rocky cliffside that looked out onto Lake Michigan, and he could, anytime he wanted to, during the week, stare out his window at those battlements and wonder at a time that wars had been waged on lakes, with navies vying for control of relatively tiny portions of water that were surrounded by land, armies lining the shores and watching ships fight in a bathtub, as it were.  It seemed inconceivable, now, when most ships were too large to even navigate to inland lakes, when gulfs and bays were considered minor in naval warfare and theaters of war were the entire size of an ocean, the "Pacific Theater" and such, that once there had been a need to defend this island.

Carter wondered if he should go downtown, or go to bed.  Or go look up the others, up on the third floor, and start meeting (again and in some cases for the first time) their children and wives and husbands, explaining why he wasn't on the third floor with them. The thought of doing that four times, in seriam, made him tired again, more tired than he had felt the night before, leaving his office with the near-empty briefcase, just the legal pad, the pen, and the small plastic fish he had taken from the novelty lamp in the corner of his office, the lamp shaped like a lava lamp but filled with water and bobbing, bubbling plastic fish that roamed up and down as the water circulated.

So he didn't go up there.  But, he thought,  with them all here now, they would begin making their ways down to the lobby, the pool, the game room, the miniature golf course, the exercise room, all preparatory to the dinner in the restaurant where they'd reserved one of the two private rooms,  already labeled (Carter had seen) "Eisenhower Dinner" on a card outside it, and he'd have to have all those conversations at once, and more, and he didn't want to, so he stood up abruptly and turned towards the four sets of oversided bronze-and-glass doors that flanked the revolving central door that led into the lobby, and decided that he would go downtown.

It took him 27 steps to get from his couch to the doors, and another three to get through the revolving door, his cushion of air-conditioned inside atmosphere carrying him out into the heat of the early afternoon. The drive led a quarter-mile down to the main road, and several pedicabs waited off to the left.  The doorman smiled at him.

"Cab?" he asked.  "Or bike?"

Carter sighed.  Cars were not allowed on the island, except for emergency vehicles. He did not want to walk to town.  But he did not want to sit in a pedicab and make conversation, and it was hard enough not to pass the time with a regular cab driver; if the driver was pedaling you somewhere and wanted to talk, how could you not?

But a grown man on a bike seemed rather ridiculous.

Then again, who was watching him?


"Bike," he said.

"Room number?" the doorman asked.  Carter told him -- 17 -- and the doorman made a note on a pad and jotted down the number of the old-fashioned seeming bicycle that stood in a rack near him, bicycles the Marquis had specially made just for its guests, each one designed to look old, and somewhat childlike, in adult proportions, each one sturdy and bright-colored with yellow and robin's egg blue and red, and each (Carter knew, from the website) equipped with a chip to prevent thefts and help you find your way around the island using the bike's own GPS.  ("Your cell phones won't work here!" the website helpfully reminded.)

He sighed and got on the bike and with a pat of the papers on his hand, he rode slowly but with increasing confidence down the quarter-mile leading to the small road that would take him to town.  His back was to the hotel, and he blamed the air resistance for forcing a few tears out of his eyes as he rode.


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