Shady Shores community, near Dallas, Texas, 1964: In college, my roommates and I lived on a lake, in a concrete-block house made from a garage, just behind the grand house of Mr. J. D. Lingo, who operated a Dallas heavy-equipment business. I don’t know what that means, except that surely it involves large equipment.
Because my roommates found jobs as banquet waiters, I also applied at the Holiday Inn, and found myself a bellboy, and I also carried breakfast orders to the rooms. I became very proud of my skill in balancing the huge tray loaded with dishes and cups.
It was also fun to call in from the pool phone, on the busy summer days, and request Mrs. Heflin at the switchboard to page Mr. T. S. Elliot. She paged him again and again, but he never answered the page.
My life changed due to James, the cajun.
He’d come from the bayou and it lived still in his speech. Outside a bar in Lake Charles, he’d saved his friend from a drunk driver, but lost a leg in the act. Once living in Nashville, he knew the young Elvis. A fine boy, Elvis, and sober. Or, as James said, “I’ve got my first time to see him take a drink.”
That Fall, as we returned to classes, James decided to return to Lake Charles. He told Mr. Kahler the manager. He told Ron Johnson, the assistant manager. Mr. Kahler did nothing, and Ron did nothing. Ron told James that if he left, Mr. Kahler would have a fit.
But James said he was going to Lake Charles on that date, regardless.
James was the night auditor; he worked from 11 at night till 7 in the morning, and balanced out the bookkeeping machine at the front desk. The difficulty was in finding a replacement.
They did nothing. He left.
I showed up at the office, and said I could do it.
Having no better plan, they let me try. I knew nothing, but there was a single form on which this balancing was done. It all added up in plusses and minuses, and a big arrow showed which two totals had to agree. I was able to figure it out.
So I became the night auditor.
In a way, this was a student’s dream job, because — the way I did it — they paid me for sleeping. I came to work, balanced the books by 1 am, then retrieved the pillow stolen from housekeeping (which I hid daytimes inside the back panel of the switchboard), and then slept on the floor behind the front desk. Paid hourly; for sleeping on the job. Neat!
I admit it startled a few late-arriving guests. Walking up to the front desk, they’d tap the bell, and then I appeared, rising like Dracula from beneath the desk.
Once, very early, Ron the assistant manager unexpectedly came through the back door. He said that if Mr. Kahler saw me sleeping, that Mr. Kahler would have a fit.
But Ron often threatened that Mr. Kahler would have a fit. I was uncertain whether to worry, or not.
As it happened, a few days later, my roommate Pat was drinking iced tea behind the front desk. Pat was a nice-looking guy who resembled Jules, or perhaps it was Jim, from the French film Jules et Jim. Pat was also the desk clerk.
Ron told Pat that if Mr. Kahler saw those empty iced-tea glasses, that Mr. Kahler would have a fit. Oddly enough, just then Mr. Kahler walked through the front door.
Behind the desk, Pat stood up, and held up an empty iced-tea glass, so that Mr. Kahler could see it. Pat said to Mr. Kahler, “Have a fit?”
Mr. Kahler gave Pat a puzzled look, and disappeared into the restaurant. Mr. Kahler had said nothing; and Mr. Kahler didn’t have a fit.
It was Ron who had the fit.