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by Alfred de Grazia



Thomas lost his decisiveness, unfortunately, as soon as he struck the flowing sidewalk crowd. Swazey was hard on his heels, and in the best of spirits.

"Let's try the Prince Harold Hotel," he suggested. "An interesting place. You know it, of course?"

He wanted to walk along à l'Arabe but Thomas compromised by letting him take him arm in a jolly-old-boy fashion.

"You know, Thomas, I am a creature of darkness."

He talked of the Chote School, of Amherst, and of his long career line leading from one academic cloister to another. Even during the war he had taught cadets how to tie knots and otherwise prepare themselves for the sea. ("No doubt by putting his arms around them to demonstrate the knot," was Thomas' malicious guess.)

His father had taught at Grinnell. ("Tammie, you are from Iowa.")

Father was beastly: ("All good Iowans end up in New York.") (End up means good?)

Corn and hogs, no place for delicate little Swazey. ( His delicate spirit had certainly consumed enormous amounts of corn and hog. )

He was a main wheel of the English Department, "Why don't you write something, Tammie." (I detest the name "Tammie".)

"You've been an Associate Professor for twelve years, and you are not in the regular Department despite your tenure. We could take you in and promote you. No more of that drivel of the American Civilization courses. Real courses, the kind that you can sink your teeth into - poetic criticism, literary metaphor." (Tell me more, Santa Claus.)

"Yes," said Thomas, "All the courses that would make the students never write like me, no, I mean not able to write like me, no, like me, unable to write.' (why can't I write? He began to write his Opus 100 in his mind: "Life with Swazey, life without mercy, sway wiz ze life…Swazey lived a plain life, a life of the plains, that is.. He skimmed the Iowa surfaces, where he was born, and never dug below them. From the age of one to two he hated his father, and was spanked for it and never loved or hated thereafter to the extent that anyone, including himself, might tell, but only tickled and titillated and barbed and needled, and tiptoed atop the seas of human anguish until he died in a waxen figure so smooth that embalming merely gilded the funeral lily."" End of Opus 100. "Life of a typical professor and I am another." He wished he might step on shit again. It was the only thing that could make him angry.)

They entered the Prince Harold from the Twelfth Street side and the long hall, with its flickering candles, looked like a processional route for the dead. Tripping and bumping, they toiled a way into the main lobby. There a motley crowd had assembled. Noise there was much of, much confusion too. But a kind of organized meeting seemed to be getting underway, presided over by the night clerk.

That desperately serious and slightly hysterical wisp of a chap had arrived at his hour of greatness. For two hours, guest after guest had come in, hardly a one with a reservation. He had doled out rooms in the voluminous edifice until every double, single, maid's room, laundry closet and rat hole had been occupied.

Then, when anybody else would have given up, he fished into his knapsack and brought forth his marshal's baton: He created four suites of rooms out of an area in the attic of the building that had been abandoned since the great Triangle sweatshop fir of 1888 and proposed to distribute sleeping space therein among the unbedded newcomers.

He was livid and bug-eyed in the possession of the greatest idea of his life. To all those who had most recently dragged themselves onto the premises he had handed registration slips. In his hands he held a sheaf of them. Who knows what was on them? -- false names, fake addresses, two slips for the sly customers, a man and wife registered on one sheet and then separately.

Nevertheless John B. Linton had found the towels, scraped up the soap, unlocked the trunk of old horse-blankets, and was going to allocate the beds among the expectant assemblage. He was about to do what the Housing Authority of the City of New York, the Board of Education, the Temporary National Emergency Housing Office (established under Public Law 396-1961), the NCCCA, the NAACP, CORE, OEP, the HEW, OE, RTA, IRT, FDR, and the U.S. Cavalry could not do. He was going to group the American people into sleeping units.

The critical moment was momentarily postponed, for better or worse, to allow two late arrivals, none other than Professors Swazey and Thomas, to declare officially and in pen and ink their intention to participate in the great lottery,-- "You are very lucky indeed that we're letting you come in under the wire," admonished them Mr. Linton -- and then he promulgated the law of distribution.

"Now," he declared, "we are going to have about seven people per suite, on a first-come, first-served basis."

This raised the devil of an uproar. "This will never do," Swazey urgently advised Thomas, nudging him in the ribs, and he shrilled out "Nooo!" on top of all the racket. It was "No good" here and "OK, Call'em out" there, and "You can't split up married couples" on the left and "You can't put single people with married couples" on the right, and so on, so there appeared to no end to it.

When everyone had made his point and it seemed quite certain that he would abandon that plan, the clerk reconsidered, recomputed, bit his tongue, scratched his pen on paper, patted his bald pate for luck, and announced the new Law: "We shall put the married couples in two suites and the single people in two suites."

Naturally a pandemonium ensued. Not only were there angry cries from those whose illegitimate and therefore unvoiced complaint was that they were not married, but hoped to sleep together anyway, but there were also those who were single and believed that there were far more singles than doubles, and those who were doubles and believed there to be more doubles than singles. Not to mention those who were heretofore pleased at being first on the list and would now be reduced to equal terms with the others. It might be added that there were also the several persons who had since arrived and wore demanding in loud voices to be registered, and those who equally loudly denounced their presumptuousness.

"All right, all right, allll riiiight!" shouted Mr. Linton in a frenzy of surrender and aggression. And he launched into an account of his pathetic life, his low pay, his poor working conditions, his cramped fingers, tired eyes, ulcerated stomach, his wish to help everybody, his genius at providing beds where beds had not existed before, and so forth until the crowd in sheer despair started to chant in unison, "Stop, stop, stop. . ." "Go on, go, go on…"

So he collected himself, waited for the acclamation of his authority to subside, and said a final, "All right… Now here's the way it will be: All men will be assigned to two suites and all women will be assigned to the other two." He thought that this would exhaust the logical possibilities, not having been schooled in combinations and permutations.

Thomas, by contrast, realized that logics were many, and braced himself against the explosion to come. The married couples were working up a find head of steam, but others were already blowing up.

"You should put all the fags in one suite, and the he-men in another," called out one troublemaker.

"I second that motion," said another.

To make matters worse, the clerk voiced the opinion that this would be quite impossible to do except upon a voluntary basis. Many laughs and giggles, with ribald remarks, flared up at this. Consternation was visible on some faces, pleasure on others - of anticipation or amusement quien sabe?

Thomas didn't think it amusing, but since he did not with to hurt Swazey's feelings, he yelled "And don't forget to do the same with the Lesbians."

"Good," whispered Swazey savagely. He felt that the time was near when he should take his marshal's baton out of his knapsack and say to the hushed multitude, suavely and without fear of the slightest dissent, "As you know, ladies and gentlemen, sex is an extremely variable system of traits. It would be best if we were each of us to take a test, the newly devised Swazey Sex-Test, copies of which I happen to have upon my person. This simple pencil-and-paper test, which requires only four and three quarter minutes of time, positions an individual with respect to the exact sexual circumstances that he is capable of, or desirous of, enjoying. On the basis of the results we might readily divide the population of this group into four quartiles, each section of which might be presumed to enjoy a satisfying night with a reliability coefficient of .476." He quivered with disgust, however, at the thought of how this herd would trample his reasonable approach.

One drunk lost patience completely and bellowed "Put me with men or wives or alligators - who cares? Sleep! Sleep! is what I want, you measly twerp with your lousy flea-bags."

"Shut up, you filthy drunk," said the clerk, "What's your name?"

"Put all the drunks in one suite," commanded a tall, elderly lady.

"Right, right," said the ad hoc WCTU cell.

But another drunk himself gave the coup de grace to the meeting: "In addition and besides," he proclaimed, belligerently, "It is no good to put blacks and whites to sleeping in the same room. They should be segregated."

That did it. Somebody said "You racist son of bitch." Somebody ducked and scooted below the mass. Somebody swore again. Somebody screamed. Someone knocked the candle out of Thomas' hand. Someone hit him on the side of the head. And he in turn was pushed so hard from the other side that he went clattering on down to the floor to be stomped on by several pairs of panicky spiky female heels.

It was not a race riot, but it was a riot. You couldn't tell the races present in broad daylight without an expert anthropologist, and in the dark all pretense was impossible. In fact, somebody -- it looked like an old black woman -- hissed and spit in Thomas' ear, "You dirty nigger!" Everyone went down in struggling heaps and the heaps rolled down the halls and out the doors like the great electric surge.

Thomas found himself tumbled, but in fettle, holding an unexpectedly comfortable place midway between the new-style length and the always-in-style, and it was warm and soft, and he made up his mind then and there, when she didn't scream, but said "O shit!" that he was in love and nothing that Swazey or anyone holy or unholy could do would get him to inhabit the suite for males. He snatched a scarf from her neck and said "I'll give it back later," so that when the next electric surge hit them and knocked them towards Hartford and Syracuse respectively, he knew he would find her.

By this time, squad cars came careening, the police were whistling, and the human mosaic on the floor was becoming once more an erect and composed group of ladies and gentlemen who desired their hotel reservations to be processed by rule of law.

So the clerk was hoisted to the counter by the policemen, tucked his shirt back into his trousers and said: "now folks, I should have called it off and closed the hotel, but I will give you one more chance."

The people applauded; the police frowned; the clerk jerked his cuffs. "Now these are orders and the law is here to execute them." The police lifted their clubs menacingly.

"Suite 64A will be occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey, Mr. And Mrs. Petrovich, Mr. and Mrs. Sniveley, and the two Sniveley children. Pay your full charge of five dollars apiece; soap and towels are in the room, also blankets."

There were murmurs and a shifting of feet, but no loud protests. That is how to rule: one group to the slaughter at a time, leaving the rest uncertain of their fate.

"Who has found my scarf?" called out Mrs. Ramsay. Dismay stabbed at Thomas''heart. The quintessential adventure dissolved.

"Who has Mrs. Ramsay's scarf, please?"

Thomas pushed through the gloom and groped for Mrs. Ramsay.

She took the scarf and pressed his hand. "See you," she whispered.

"Wha..Wha..wh..a." (how stupid can a man's wits be?)

Off went the troupe. "Now the women all alone as follows: Mrs. Carriardi, Miss. Martinez, Miss Brown, Mrs. Mellon, Miss Fisrick, Miss Mehrstock, Mrs. Melancholia; you will be in Suite 61B, you will be seven, ladies, three doubles and a cot."

Thomas heard none of this. He heard none of the rest. He was the pondering, wondering, rutting man in lust. The assembly was dismissed. There was a clamor of the disappointed, modulated by the mute of the badge and club. Swazey's voice could be heard saying to him "Well, our names weren't called, but I'm going up to Suite 69A with the other boys."

The intent of Thomas was clear. The law was made and now was to be broken; hecha la ley, hecha la trompa. The police left and everything settled itself. The clerk could not tell one person from another in the dim light. Each went where he pleased.

And when Thomas dragged himself up to the attic and Suite 64A, there were not the Sniveleys but two uproarious drunks, a timid couple ensconced behind a screen, and a double bed in which reclined the Ramsays -- were they Mrs. and Mr., Misses, Messrs. or whatever? The main circumstance was that they had room in the middle for a tired yet tireless charged-up Thomas.

Neither displayed the scarf or anything else, yet he determined to take the plunge. He was experiencing exhilarating waves of scarce electricity. He was too puritanical, however, to believe that he was finally to discover a use for his talents in the crisis. His simple thought was sauve qui peut.


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