Excerpts from Chlora’s Book of the Month Club: January
Copyright 2014, Ginger Henry Geyer
Chlora and family have arrived in Chicago, her first visit to a big city.
They check into a fine hotel…
Chlora had to been to motels a few times,
where you park your station wagon's rear
right up to the door
of your room and unload.
Motels were sort of boring, all look-alike,
but at least they usually had a swimming pool.
Here in January in Chicago,
a pool was a far cry away.
Chlora was not prepared
for a big city highrise hotel.
The taxi pulled into a big covered loggia,
and men in big gray coats and hats
instantly swarmed it,
opening up the trunk and doors.
The white glove treatment made
Chlora felt special; this was definitely not
the No Tell Motel.
Nor was it the modest and
overcrowded inn at Bethlehem
that had barns out back.
The family tumbled out of the cab
and Dad fumbled for money
to put in each outstretched gloved hand.
Inside another porter placed their luggage
on a big brass cart.
Chlora sat on top of it for the ride.
The porter jiggled her heavy backpack,
inquired where they were from,
and then asked Chlora
if she brought some rocks
to put in her shoes so she'd feel at home.
What was that supposed to mean?
Dad tipped the guy and thanked him
for his hospitality.
Chlora muttered, this isn't hospitality,
this is the hospitality business.
They've turned it into an entire industry.
Hospitality doesn't just welcome the stranger,
it recognizes their holiness.
But then, maybe we left our
holiness in the taxi cab.
The marble check-in desk spanned the lobby.
The clerks there were very polite
with smiles that floated above
their bodies, like the Cheshire Cat.
The family's double room wasn't ready yet
so they had to wait in the lobby.
Chlora used the time to explore the hotel.
It had the widest expanse of wall-to-wall
carpeting in the whole world,
except for maybe a big mosque in the Middle East.
Chlora traced a big curlicue with her foot.
Way down the hall, a lady vacuumed
and when she finished one area,
she'd just keep going until she got back
to the place where she began.
With that much exposure, the maid risked
taking on the pattern of the carpet
like a full body tattoo.
Chlora peeked into a huge ballroom,
the kind Cinderella's stepsisters
would sashay into, with high ceilings
hung with dangly glass chandeliers
that were bigger than life.
Flabbergasted, Chlora gaped at the elegance
and snapped pictures of the fanciness.
Those huge light fixtures were all over this hotel
to illuminate the luminaries who needed to shine.
Chlora used up her flash bulb
just trying to get portraits
of the chandeliers.
She slipped through a door marked
Hotel Staff Only
to see what they were up to.
Had she fallen down the rabbit hole?
Concrete floors instead of carpet
and a jumble of overflowing racks
made it look like a dump back there.
An endless row of carts filled
with cups and coffee pots lined up like planes
on a tarmac all ready to go.
Another set-up on wheels
held gargantuan silver bowls of ice,
with glasses stacked in perfect pyramids.
Dozens of bottles of champagne
sat chilling in ice buckets,
and made her think that maybe
the wedding at Cana
was going on in the other ballroom
and Jesus had just turned all the water into wine,
that is, the finest French champagne.
The trail of party goods continued,
with vats of flatware and
piles of perfectly folded napkins
to plop down in the laps of luxury.
In an adjoining banquet room,
murals of Venice covered the long walls
between ornate, framed mirrors.
White-clothed tables were set up
around the perimeter of the room
and waiters in starchy uniforms
darted about, expertly
setting up silverware and the napkins
which were now folded into stiff points.
Chlora asked a waiter what's for lunch
and he replied Brunch.
She wasn't sure what that was.
Another waiter flew by with a cart
covered in a red cloth
and sporting an elaborate tray
with silver domes on it.
That was brunch, apparently.
He headed toward the elevator,
made a prissy bow and gestured
for Chlora's family to proceed ahead.
Meanwhile, Chlora's brother
J.P. punched all the buttons he could find.
Beside the elevator
tall ceramic ashtrays filled with
sand stood at attention.
The sand was imprinted with the hotel's logo.
She might try that in her kitty litter box.
The big doors yawned open
and a gust of smoke came out.
Suddenly her little brother skedaddled
into the smoky interior
and the brass doors shut.
It was as if he had been snarfed up
by a medieval mouth from hell.
The row of lights above the mouth
chimed ding, ding, ding
as the elevator car shot up to the moon.
This upset Mom something terrible,
but Chlora knew J.P. would enjoy the ride.
Her dad took the next elevator up
to look for J.P. Both of them were gone
for what seemed an eternity or two.
J.P reappeared first, grinning,
holding hands with a nice
elderly couple. He was leaning up
against the lady's full length
mink coat and looked like
he didn't want to budge.
The lady said Does this darling
little Southerner belong to you?
Chlora said, How'd y'all know
we're from the South?
The man chucked and ground out
the tip of his cigar
in the ashtray, messing up the logo.
Then he let J.P. choose a new cigar
out of his box for a souvenir.
Just as soon as Dad came back,
the family and all their luggage squeezed
into one elevator car.
The waiter with his red food service cart
maneuvered in alongside them.
A few other people crammed on
and the elevator lurched.
Chlora had practiced an elevator speech
just for this moment.
But she clammed up as the elevator
was even more crowded
than the taxi cab, and she remembered
some unwritten rule
about being silent in elevators.
Apparently you are supposed to
look at the ceiling.
What if you dropped your room key
down the shaft?
What if the car got stuck between floors?
What if somebody farted
and took up all the air?
She was nose-to-nose with the food cart.
Not only was it loaded with silver domes,
shiny as mirrors, but it also sported
a champagne bottle in a silver bucket.
Everything was perfectly arranged,
including two paper-covered
glasses of orange juice,
two of everything. Brunch on wheels.
Chlora traced the rivulets of icy water
that ran down the side of the bucket.
The ice probably came from a glacier
here in Chicago; it was cold enough
to grow icebergs in Lake Michigan.
Chlora's announced that her ears had popped.
Dad joked that maybe the
champagne bottle would, too.
Their hotel room was on the thirteenth floor
except it was labeled twelve.
An endless hallway of doors and red carpet
gave off a dizzying effect of sameness.
Chlora figured she could imagine six impossible
things before the end of the hall.
Skipping past closed doors, she wanted to peer
in the keyholes, or telescope herself small
and vanish through one,
like Alice in Wonderland.
The mystery guest behind that door
hadn’t eaten very much but a banana and coffee.
Those waffles and berries
looked pretty good even if a bit soggy.
There was even real maple syrup, not just clear corn syrup.
And he or she left the hard-boiled egg and most of the bacon.
Why didn’t they just order the skimpy continental breakfast?
Voyeurism go the best of her
and Chlora envisioned even more than six impossibly
wonderful things on the food tray
as she took a worldwide tour.
The banana surely came from an exotic rain forest,
the coffee pot from a cozy Parisian bistro,
the berries from an organic farm in California,
the waffles weren’t the frozen kind, as in
cogito ergo eggo, I think therefore I waffle,
but they were those fluffy Swedish ones.
And the newspaper harkened to the glories of
world class music and theatre, while
the egg became the beginning of the world.
That silly Alice in Wonderland would eat anything.
Eat me! Drink me!
Chlora reached for the bacon and got reprimanded.
Instead she took the cast off newspaper.
Good news for some is bad news for others
but this was her lucky day—it was the Arts section.
This is how you know you are in a real city—
they have an arts section
to balance out all the awfulness.
There was a cute set of salt and pepper shakers
and a big funny looking spoon.
Can I have these? Chlora asked.
No! her Mom declared. Why do even good people
steal things in hotels?
They were ushered into a spacious room with a view.
There was an oversized telephone on the desk
and a clock on the night table.
Better yet there were chocolates on the pillow.
Chlora grabbed them before anyone else noticed.
There was no machine to put a dime in
to make the bed vibrate, like at the motel.
But it was big enough for breakfast in bed.
She opened the mini-fridge.
Some things were free
but this surely was not.
So she headed for the bathroom to check out
the array of little toiletries.
Behind the door she found a bathtub
big enough for a party
and a terrycloth bathrobe
that weighed fifty pounds.
Light bulbs outlined the gold-rimmed mirror
to make you feel like a celebrity.
A round magnifying mirror was hinged
to that one, and yet another trifold mirror
hugged the dressing table.
Mirrors were curious things.
After Narcissus admired himself
in a reflective pool,
people began to manufacture
mirrors out of shiny metal.
Even ancient ladies treasured their mirrors.
The Etruscans made hundreds
of them, apparently.
Joanie Kay gravitated to the large mirror
like she was going to
sashay right through the looking glass.
She reverently unpacked her
cosmetic case and curlers.
A phone flanked the toilet.
Who would want to talk on the phone
while sitting on the pot?
This was called luxury.
Is luxury bad?
The bellboy whipped out a wooden luggage rack
and perched a suitcase on it.
Come unto me, all ye who are heavy-laden.
Chlora asked him if he'd ever
heard of angels unawares.
He said that yes, he recognized them everyday
in his own neighborhood but rarely
here at the hotel.
He smiled and opened the bedside table drawer
and handed her a Gideon Bible.
It was spanking new, unlike the well-used one
they had back home.
He said, I hope you'll feel at home here.
Chlora was a bit suspicious, as she had heard
tales of those Gideon bible bangers,
but something about
his gesture made her feel welcome at last.
The Bible seemed glued shut,
its gold-edged pages stuck in clumps.
Maybe nobody had ever read it before.
In one fell swoop, the servant pulled back the
heavy draperies and it seemed like
an opera had just begun.
Light flooded the room.
Chlora rubbed her eyes and gasped
at the most astonishing
skyline she had ever seen.
The city's arts district spread before her,
museums and performance halls and schools.
A greenish river divided the town
into sections. Sophisticated condos
and parking garages filled an area
with tall trees.
On the other side was an
industrial district with
smokestacks puffing into barren
old tenement buildings.
Directly below Chlora's window lay a pool
and rows of bare rose bushes surrounded by
manicured box hedges
that did not seem to mind the cold winter.
Chlora thought she could see
the Queen of Hearts strutting around,
painting the white roses red.
Fancy that! A war of roses right under her nose.
Chlora asked the servant if she could order her
very own room service.
It would be a never-ending tea,
like the Mad Hatter's.
She would sip from china cups that made
your pinky finger stick straight out.
And if those big-haired, stupidest-ever
tea partiers tried to interrupt
with complaints about big government,
she would flick her little finger
and say, "Just be glad we're not a monarchy,
or it'd be off with your heads!"
She would dress up, wear a flowered hat
rather than a tiara, and set up lots
of card tables and chairs all over the city.
Then she would invite all the people
from the wrong side of town,
who were excluded from the tea parties,
to a marvelous banquet.
She would shrink and swell as necessary
in order to right-size herself
so as to offer hospitality fitting for each guest.
Multiple set-ups of champagne would
be dispersed so all could revel
in that miracle on ice
and pop corks in the air.
When they were all full,
Chlora would approach the balcony,
tap her spoon on the railing,
gather the attention of the
arts district below,
then up with her arms and on her tip toes,
she would conduct a symphony
of the city below,
harmonizing all its neighborhoods
in one full, unified, and generous sound.