Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Problem of Mr. Sanders

A package had arrived for Mr. Sanders. No return address. Just a cardboard box, sheathed in brown paper wrapping, tied with string, and sealed with a woman's lipstick kiss. (Her identity remains a mystery to this day. What might cause a member of the female species to have the slightest romantic inclinations for this soft-spoken milquetoast does as well.) This enigmatic box gathered dust at the front desk for three days. We persistently rang his room without response. My exasperated brother decided to bring it up in person. I followed him up the stairs. Had some important revelation I wish to tell him.

He walked on down to Room 217. End of the hall, to the right of the glowing red EXIT sign, and the door to the fire escape. 

He knocked on the door.

"My Sanders ...?

The door pushed in a little. Mr. Sanders hadn't locked it.

My brother shrugged and went inside. Then he promptly remerged and shut the door — and made sure he heard it click

Your uncle Marion's face was white. I kid you not. I'd always assumed that was a mere expression of speech but his face was literally white.


"Don't go in there."

I reached for the doorknob.

He shouted like a crazy man.

"I said don't go in there."

Yelling his head off in this impatient fashion unlike him. A portent of some unpleasant vision behind the door to Room 217. Bad enough to rattle him. And that was saying something.

"What's going on?"

My brother carefully considered his words.

"Well, bro. Mr. Sanders just equipped himself with a rope necktie, that's what the hell is going on."

"Huh? What in sam hill is a rope --"

"He hung himself. He's dangling from the ceiling as we speak."

"I want to see!"

"No you don't."

"Yes I do."

"His eyes are all bugged out. And his face looks like a damn red sugar beet."

"I want to see."

"Jesus Christ, bro, he shit his pants. And it looks like he's got a hardon too."

"A hardon?"

Uncle Marion nodded grimly.

At that precise moment, I lost all desire to see the unpleasant vision that lurked behind the door to Room 217. Even if I hadn't, gawking at corpses was an exceedingly low priority at this moment.

We now had a problem.

Once we informed Papa Don and Ma-Maw of Mr. Sander's' early checkout, the shrieks, moans and wailing would begin. These would emerge from the mouth of my sainted mother alone, but that mouth was capable of astonishing vocal power. Ma-Maw would cry out that we were ruined! No guest would stay in the hotel ever again from now until the end of time — unless we hush this thing up. But how can we? Oh God, we can't! No! Word will get out of Mr. Sanders dangling remains! People will know! Truth is, people probably wouldn't know, if she'd had sense enough to keep her mouth shut, but she didn't, and she'd broadcast the news like the town crier. And yes, thanks to Ma-Maw's mouth, word would indeed get out. For lovers on a tryst, the notion of a dangling corpse (in some room somewhere) is not an aphrodisiac. Traveling salesmen are superstitious about ghosts and all that crap. The truck farmers most surely wouldn't like it. Had to avoid germs, handling the quantities of fresh vegetables that they did.

This ineluctable chain of events would ensue once Ma-Maw got the news. Both of us knew it, and had no need to verbalize the falling dominoes. Or the only possible solution to our problem.

Withholding the news from Ma-Maw was our immediate task at hand. 

"What do we do?

We Get Don up here, to ma-maw

NI'l get ...

No you won't , Seh'll see right through you.

He stood there thinking, then jerked his head. Which indicating he was leaving and I should follow.

We walked back downstairs. I imagined Mr. Sanders, swinging like a pendulum on a grandfather clock. Your Uncle Marion went down to the front desk and called Papa Don on the house phone.

"We have a proble,, sir.

"Well, i really hate to say this. But i think Mr. Sanders skip out."

I snickered incept of myself.

I could hear Don carrying on. Mr Sanders had run up a significant tab.

"You know what's worse than that,?"

Don said mumbled something.

"Mr. Sanders -- I always thought he was a all right -- but left this big old stack ofpornography right by the door. No, sir/ I promise you I didn't look at it. But it loks like some ... oh just that one cover on top was purely horrible. This woman with a whip and ... I don't even want to describe it o you sir. I --"


"He's on his way up."

He moving in a hurry, like a fat kid going for a plate of cookie. We could hear him stomping up the stairs like a walrus with feet. 

Though he was only in his early 40s, Don ordinarily moved like an old man. But he could double-time it when he wanted to.

If you will pardon the interruption, I should take the opportunity to point out that Don was not without vigor. The Army gave him his honorable discharge in '35, for heaven's sake. He didn't go to hell in five years. This stepinfetchit shuffle was an act. Grandma Louise moved him around like a headless chicken--Do this! Do that! One pointless task after another, just to make his life miserable. If Don hustled through it, she'd just load him up with more ball-busting busywork. So he took his damn time. In the Army, this was known as passive aggression, though I believe the psychiatric community has appropriate the term.

Papa Don appeared at the end of the hall, then closed the distance in a shot. You'd think he was going out for the track team.

"I'd better handle this boys."

I noticed that he was gripping a black leather salesman-type sample case in his right hand. Doubtlessly intended to remove the stack of obscenity before it damaged ourtender eyes.

He breeze past us and went in.

Thought he door we hear --

"Dingdongdamnit horseshit bastard shit."

Papa Don had an peculiar way of cursing. Like a foreign language he'd learned but not that well.

He popped back out again, threw the sample case to the floor and kicked it against the wall.

"Why didn't you --"

"The truth would've upset you. Granmad would read it on your face And she'd drag herself up the stairs to see for herself."

I" gusesYeh. That's exactly what she'd do. And raise holy hell? That's what you're figuring?"

Unle Marion nodded.

"So what the hell do we do?"

Asking my brother for advice. Like he's the child and uncle marion's the adult.

"Well we've got to get her out of her e..."

"Son, you don't have to tell me that. How?"

"Well, she's won an award."

"She has, huh? For what."

"Hotel managmenet."

Horseshit! I manage the goddamn -- oh. Well, where's she gonna pick up the award?"

"At the convention sir.

"What convention?"

"The hotel and hospitality convention, sir.

"Oh, you don't say. Well ... Where' that located?"

"Miami beach. the Del Ray hotel. That's the place."

Oh. You mean that place where there is no convention? That's the place you mean?

"It's a terrible prank sir. Just terrible."

Something close to a smile befiefly crept up Papa Don's face.

The thing of it is ... Who's gonna drive her up? Oh. I guess I'll have to do it, huh? Well. How do we get the ...

"I'll call the coroner from the front desk and say I'm you."

"Well that's mighty nice of you, but your 15 years old and --"

"I don't sound like a kid.

"Guess not. You think of everything, huh, smartypants? Well, here's something you didn't think of. I'm making that call, not you, because that's what I want."

No , that's not what you want.

Why not?

If you call first, the coroner might arrive before you and Ma-Maw get out of here.

"Oh. I guess so. Well. I guess I better get moving..."

"Can you act?

"Act like what."

"Like on stage."

"No, I ain't he theater' type. Never was no pretty boy, never will be."


Your Uncle Marion stood there. Thinking.

"Go to her room. Just get on down there. Act all excited. You're so excited you can't speak. Stutter, you know? Can you do that?"

"I guess i can do that., sure."

Welkl pratice.

Practice what?

"OK, I'll tell you what to say."

"Go ahead, smartypants."

Oh my God I I -- can't believe it -- we won't the --- we won. Now say that.

"Say what?"

Oh my God I I -- can't believe it -- we won't the --- we won


Papa don repeated this riducluylous phrase, failing to recognize the implied caricature. For additional verisimilitude, Uncle Marion also advised him to wave his hands in an excited manner.

Papa Don complied. Your Uncle Marion applauded this minimal level of acting ability.

Don headed out down the hall. Moving in high gear, fluttering those hands.

"No, Don. Go slow. Take your time."

"You say so."

He downshifted to the old man shuffle. Uncle Marion and I left him behind. We ran own the stairs, and headed for the front desk. Your Uncle Marion proceeded to pick up the phone and called Ma-Maw before he got there.

Ma-Maw! Ma-Maw~! Oh my Lord, you won't believe it! The Hotel Convention just called, and they said you won an award!

Even over the phone, i could hear her shouting ":An award? For what."

"Hotel management. Don got the message ad he can barely talk he's so excited -- but you gotta get there by noon"

Noon! Noon today?

"Yes, ma'am. Convention starts today, and that's when they hand out the awards."

Flustery hen clucking sounds emergeb from the pick up, though i can't distinguish individual words.

"Yes, ma'am. He's on his way now. IHe passed us in the hall, right before I called.

Papa Don was still far behind us, truth be told.

More clucking emerged from the phone.

"Uh-huh. Best get a move on. I'm so proud of you ma0-maw. You really deserve this."

Then he hung up the phone, picked up the phone book and found he number of the county coroner. He called. 

And in the best Papa Don imitation I'd ever heard in his life, he said, 
"Sir, you'd best get down here. thE hotel Walton's what I mean, sir. The ting of it is ...My son just called, well, one of the guests just hung himself on the second floor. We're down in Miami, but I guess that's ... Well, we're checking out right now. We'll drive on up as fast as we can, but I tis' just so traumatizing for the boys. You think you could get him where he's supposed to go? I do appreciate it. Oh. That would be George Sanders S-A-N-D-E-R-S. Room 217. Than you so very much."

He hung up the phone.

Don finally appeared, waving his hands, repeating the phrase, walking as slow as ever. He shuffled his way to your Grandmother's private sanctum. Shortly thereafter, they drove off together.

About three hours later, they returned. Ma-Maw was mad as a wet hen and raising holy hell in the lobby. A bald headed guest regarded her with curiosity.

"A prank! I still can't believe it! I want to know who's responsible."

"Maybe some rival hotel?"

"Who, Don? Who?"

"Well, they didn't leave their name, did they."

"Is that your attempt at humor?"

"Just saying I don't know who, is all."

"I don't like your tone, Don."

"Can't cough up the real name, cause all I got was a fake name. That's all I'm saying."

"Are you mocking me?"

"No, Louise. Don't see why you'd think that. I'm no jolly joker, never was, never will be."

"Well ... I think you're up to something.! I'm going to get to the bottom of it, so help me, I will."

Her rant continued. A torrent of threats, suspicions and accusations  But we weren't worried.

Mr. Sanders was long gone. The perfect crime.

Then the baldheaded guest walked up and asked about the white vehicle that'd parked in the driveway.

Without hesitation, Uncle Marion informed him that an ice cream truck had broken down. Not just any ice cream truck. The good Humor limousine for rich folks in Boca.

The guest gave my brother a funny look and walked away.

Uncle Marion made that crazy in the head gesture.

Grandma turned away with a snort. She fingered through the guest registry and totally lost her train of thought. We heard her clap her hands and cry, "Ooh!" Then she turned around and smiled. She had some wonderful news to share. 

Just wonderful.

That odd Mr. Sanders finally checked out. He didn't pay his tab, but that's the hotel business, isn't it? Now here's the good news ...

Room 217 is unoccupied. Yes, it's true!

The room we love so much was ours again until next season.

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