Double or nothing

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” –George Santayana 1. Caged I am caged in a prison cell, where boredom was moderately alleviated by contemplating jabbing a sterling silver fork deep into a molar. Two dozen or so, along with their dishwasher-speckled counterparts, spoons and knives, languished in a nearby heap. One of the assigned punishments for the night was to roll the silverware into tight bundles for the hungry, hungry masses. On a corner of the room service office desk sat a sullen slab of newly laundered black napkins. I sighed and picked up a fork. Rumor had it (to be investigated on the next MythBusters episode) if a utensil were jabbed correctly and deeply enough into a filling, there was the possibility of picking up a radio station. Local or Taiwanese—it didn’t matter, nor did I care. I was tired. I was bored. And it was late, very late. I opened my mouth and tentatively prodded a molar. Devices alleviating the tedium, excluding silverware, were strictly verboten. Years ago some dolt missed a few dozen orders due to something called a Walkman: hence, my boredom, my desperation. And, if The Ventura wasn’t such “an antiquated and venerable hotel exuding Old World charm,” (Sunset Magazine, March, 2008), I would have a computer in my second floor office, prison cell. I would have Internet access and the world at my fingertips. I could catch up on scores or check the injury status of my fantasy football team. Instead, I contemplated jabbing a fork deep into a molar. However, before I injured myself or began the thrill that was rolling silverware, the phone rang. “Thank you for calling room service. This is Francis—” Not my real name. Pseudonyms were standard practice when Travis was the graveyard grill guy. He thought it was amusing to occasionally sneak a pubic hair into people’s food. It was difficult enough being berated at three in the morning, but somehow it wasn’t as bad when it wasn’t my name they screamed at me. “Sean! Do you think it’s funny that there’s a hair in my wife’s salad?!” “Thomas! Guess what I found in my burger?!” “David! Is hair an ingredient in The Ventura’s lasagna recipe?!” What was (almost) worse than the justifiable yelling was Travis’s post-delivery phone call to me…. “Did they find it? Did they? Did they?” Recently his enthusiasm had increased to the point of nothing short of disturbing. “Travis—” “They didn’t, did they? Did they?” “Travis—” “Guess where it was. Guess. Guess. You’ll never guess where it was.” This week, on my room service shifts, I was Francis. “Thank you for calling room service. This is Francis, how may I help you tonight?” A gruff, smoke-scabbed voice said, “I’d like a thick twelve-incher sent to room 666.” One of the inherent problems with The Ventura was its “antiquated charm.” This charm extended to the phone system, which didn’t have caller ID or the ability to display the caller’s room number. It also included Marvin, the octogenarian doorman incapable of opening the front door or a cab’s, but knew the address and phone number of every pub and strip club in Portland. “I’d like a thick twelve-incher sent to room 666.” “Gramps,” I said, tearing up the order ticket, “what the hell do you want?” “I’ll call right back.” And he hung up. “Antiquated charm” also had many inherent advantages. A few of us had discovered the cracks in the walls and had, for a few years now, taken advantage of that charm. The phone immediately rang again. I stood, closed the door to my expansive view of the catering kitchen’s silent, greasy grills and fryers, and answered, “Hello?” “This is AT&T, will you accept a collect call from,” a crackle and Gramps’ voice displaced the automated operator, “Cherry Okanagan.” Gramps prided himself on being someone new every time he called. Lately he’d memorized and repeated the names of his favorite dancers. His behavior may explain why three years ago, while frenetically stirring a batch of her famous Toll House cookies, grandmother decided to have a massive coronary and pass away. This was a better option than continuing to tolerate him as she’d done the previous fifty years. “Yes, I will. Hello? Cherry?” “Hey, Jason! What’s what with your butt?” I could tell, just by his enthusiasm and slight slur, he was five or ten bourbon-and-sevens into the night. “Sore as ever, Gramps.” “The man still stickin’ it to ya, is he?” “Afraid so.” Our standard repertoire negated actually discussing anything of import. “Yeah, I remember when I was bent over and takin’ it. Shit, howdy, did I lose a few years like that. Probably explains my aching back and the blood in the morning.” Few appreciated his colorful vernacular. And, since grandmother’s passing, it had become more and more colorful. “Uh, Gramps, what’s up?” “You mean, like wood in the morning?”

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