Trace at the Tam
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
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
“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
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
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.
“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