Mar-Apr '06 | briefing | mail | interviews | articlespsorchat | psorchat review | don't say this | flaker creativity | flakers' jargon | other places | archives | send mail | ed dewkesearch | acknowledgments | legal stuff | 2004 Ed Dewke

Trace at the Tam

short fiction
by Rodger Jacobs

The three hotel clerks continued to purr and cluck and banter back and forth about some billing process or other form of official business that had them in animated disagreement.
 
Trace knew he wasn’t invisible to their gaze. They just figured he could wait, like all of the other Extended Stay guests. The bag of groceries was straining his grip. He could feel his fingers locking up from the psoriatic arthritis that had invaded his joints, as it always did during severe psoriasis flare-ups. Beneath the black leather glove that cloaked his hand the skin was dry and cracked and bleeding.
 
One of the hotel clerks clucked but not at Trace. “That’s not the way I was taught to do it. You’re supposed to hit the enter key and then —”
 
Trace gripped the alabaster handle on his walking stick and hobbled closer to the counter.
 
“Excuse me, ladies. Does it take three of you to have this conversation?”
 
One of the clerks, a pretty Chinese-American girl who, Trace noticed, sported one of those annoying plastic friendship bracelets on her left wrist, looked up and blinked demurely.
 
“Would you like your mail?”
 
“Yes. That’s why I’m here.”
 
“You don’t have any.”
 
“Are you sure?”
 
“Uh-huh. I just finished sorting it.”
 
Trace could feel her eyes on his back as he limped toward the bank of elevators. On days when his psoriatic flare-ups were at their worst his public image was markedly different from other days: black leather gloves (one of the hotel clerks gratingly called them Trace’s “O.J. gloves”), walking stick, dark sunglasses, and, when imposed upon, a gaze that threatened more violence than a Category Six Hurricane striking an island of grass huts.
 
No mail meant no paycheck yet. But he still had money in the bank, even after springing for lunch and cocktails that afternoon at the Tam O’Shanter Inn with one of his favorite local writers and the writer’s webmaster.
 
Just over the hill from Los Feliz in Atwater Village, the Tam O’Shanter was — and still remains — one of L.A.’s finest gray ladies. A proclamation from Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg that hangs on the Tam’s foyer wall says it all: “The oldest restaurant in Los Angeles in the same location under the same ownership and management.”
 
When the restaurant was built in 1922, co-owner Lawrence Frank said that he wanted the eatery “to look like something from Old Normandy.” When that design failed to click with patrons of the restaurant on the small country road that connected Glendale to Hollywood a friend of the owners made a suggestion.
 
“Why don’t you call it the Tam O’Shanter after Robert Burns’ famous poem?” he offered “And you can put the waitresses in plaid costumes to carry out the idea.”
 
And so it remains. Waitresses clad in plaid, Yorkshire pudding, and hearty roast beef sandwiches prepared from the previous day’s cut of prime rib.
 
But Trace didn’t eat at the Tam that afternoon. When he was on the healing side of a psoriasis flare-up — paradoxically, the most painful phase — he didn’t have much of an appetite. He instead sipped three Bass Ales on tap and enjoyed the conversation with his friends.
 
After lunch, Trace took a Yellow Cab to a drug store near the hotel. He bought a sixteen-ounce bottle of dry skin therapy lotion for his hands and legs. He had not hydrated his legs all day, which meant that when he got home they would be cracked and bloody and in need of immediate attention.
 
By the time he got to the hotel desk to pick up his mail he was glad he had brought the walking stick along because he could feel the plaque psoriasis sores breaking open on the soles of his afflicted feet. The walk from the drug store to the hotel was enough to accomplish that bit of nastiness.
 
At the elevator Trace leaned on his cane for support. Every joint in his body was swelling from the arthritis. His skin felt like it was being treated with flaming sandpaper applied by a bear’s claw.
 
Five more minutes, he told himself. Don’t scream out loud. The elevator will be here and then you will be back in your room. Five more minutes. Hang in there, cowboy.
 
In the elevator an elderly Armenian man with white air flowing out of his ears joined Trace, followed closely by a younger Armenian man cradling a toy black poodle in his arms.
 
“What happen?” the old man asked Trace, nodding to the walking stick, the only thing now holding him erect.
 
“Lots of things, arthritis, nerve damage.”
 
“Nerve damage?” There was a hint of German in the old Armenian’s accent. “From car? Accident?”
 
“No. From scratching, damage I did from scratching too hard with things I should never have scratched with.” He smiled. “I have a skin disease.”
 
The old man waved a finger at Trace’s gloved hands.
 
“And?”
 
“That’s part of the skin disease. Psoriasis.”
 
The old man’s face clouded over. Trace knew that would throw him. The young man then exchanged explanatory words with the old man.
 
“Mutti,” the young man said, and made a sweeping gesture over the flesh of one arm. “Mutti.” German for “mommy.” He knew he caught a Germanic lilt in the old man’s voice. In his daily travels around Glendale, Trace noticed that Armenians spoke a fascinating language peppered with words and phrases in French, German, and Russian.
 
“Mutti,” the old man repeated and nodded his head sympathetically.
 
The doors slid open and Trace stepped out of the elevator car with a nod and half-smile to both men. The young man held up the black poodle as if the dog, too, bade Trace well.
 
“I fucking hate poodles,” Trace said under his breath as the tip of his cane hit the carpet and he hobbled like a crooked man down the long hallway.

*****

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