Conversation with Minerva

Across the hidden room (no longer secret now that I and Zoeasta had broken the code) the back door opened onto a giant spider web blocking a small opening in the annulus surrounding a wellbore encased with cement. I had wondered about the absence of spiders as I had worked my way from the basement under Hotel Julian through the tunnel and into the underground room. A few webs I had seen, hanging like frayed tapestries depicting the scene of some ancient battle or site of seduction. But I have no fear of spiders (snakes, yes, but not spiders), and I quickly swept the web away from the door, careful not to harm the spider’s anchor thread, the easier for her to weave a new web. A ladder affixed to the inside of the vertical well shaft invited further exploration. But what to do with Zoeasta? She rubbed against my leg, arching her back, and rubbed her head on my calf, telling me something in cat speak. I could see rays of light at the top of the shaft. I dropped a rock, and several seconds later heard a splash. I could leave Zoeasta in the room and hope she made it back to her kittens, or carry her up the ladder with me. Either way, she probably knew her way back to her litter in the basement of the hotel better than I did. I decided to carry her up the ladder with me, thinking the tunnel into the hidden room might be too dark to navigate even for a cat. Once out of the well, I would hurry her back to the hotel and her kittens. We began our climb. I counted 40 rungs on the fixed steel ladder, about 10 inches on center. At the top, we climbed out of the well shaft into an elaborate wishing well cover, complete with spindle wound with rope from which hung a wooden bucket under a shingle hip roof held up by wooden beams sided half way up with horizontal, painted slats. On one side was a hinged gate. I opened it, stepped out, Zoeasta still in my arms, and was flabbergasted to suddenly notice an old woman, sitting apparently nude in a forest green Adirondack chair, knitting a long narrow tapestry that rolled across a yard of bermuda grass. I was standing in the backyard of a house, presumably across the street from Hotel Julian. The old woman had stopped her weaving or knitting and was staring at me, bemused, while I gazed back at her, bewildered. Disoriented, I absentmindedly let go of Zoeasta, who dashed across a grassy space and out of the yard. You found Zoeasta, I see, the old lady quipped, and she’s had her kittens, I see. Oh, my. Down below are they? Oh, my. I can see you’ve had quite the adventure, Glaucus. Hand me my robe there, on that side table. I’m just sunning, you know, getting my daily dose of vitamin D. I hope you don’t mind. Sorry if I startled you. What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? Oh, don’t worry about Zoeasta, she’ll find her way back to her kitties. She visits us everyday, and she crosses the street to the hotel very cautiously. Smart cat, that one. Oh, yes, I know who you are, Glaucus. You’re staying at the hotel these days, and have even taken on some part time work there, though I’m damned if I can understand why. Yes, I see everything that goes on at the hotel. And you should be out adventuring, exploring the real world, not hiding out in these secret dream rooms buried beneath childhood’s ruins. What are you doing, anyway? Why have you so disappointed? What a waste, what a waste you are, Glaucus. And what have you done with Sylvie? Abandoned her for some flower girl? Though I rather like Florence. She’s had a hard go of life, so far. But I don’t see how you can be of any help. But we’ll see, we’ll see. How many kittens, by the way, in Zoeasta’s litter? Still 5, I hope.

“Minerva” is episode 32 of Inventories
a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Note: With episode 30, the title of the novel was changed
from the original working title of “Ball Lightning” to Inventories.

Zoeasta and the Hidden Room

Zoeasta, one of the range free cats living about Hotel Julian, disappeared, and it was assumed she picked a spot to give birth to her litter. I found her in a box licking five closed eyes kittens when I returned with a flashlight to the storage room in the basement under the grocery to continue my inventory of supplies, surplus, and stowed stuff. The light startled her, but she recognized me and did not seem perturbed. I turned away and of course left them alone. I had reached the far back of the unused storage area, curious to explore around the walled room and find an entrance. A closer look at the blueprints I had found suggested there might have once existed a root cellar in the space, or a wine cellar. Maybe an old cistern. I smelled soil, felt a draft. Who were the workers in the 1940’s who worked on the hotel? The laborers, framers, plumbers. How long had this stone box been sealed? The dry, stone walls were built of riprap, cracks and joints sealed with plumber’s oakum. I made my way around the corner of the room and found what appeared to be a piece of the old unfinished basement. I stepped onto a space of smooth, hard packed dirt floor. The wall and ceiling here were shored with thick, rough sawn beams. A header beam built into the corner of the foundation topped a crawl space door with round side posts functioning as jambs. I sat on the ground and kicked against the wood panel with my boots. It cracked open and broke free in a burst of dust and splinters, and I peered in with my light. Three steps of railroad tie led down to another opening, a larger door. I crawled through the crawl space opening, scooted down the tie steps, pushed opened the door in another sneeze of dust and falling clutter, stooped through, and found myself in a clean, post and beam shored tunnel, about 6 feet in height and 3 feet across, its sides, between the posts, open dirt. The tunnel continued for about 50 feet. I must now have been under the street on the front side of Hotel Julian. I might even be across the street, under one of the old houses opposite the hotel. At the far end of the tunnel, another door, this one finished, ornate, like the door of a church, leafed and paneled, carved of hardwoods. I felt the door, rubbing my hand on the wood, and at the same time felt something rub against my leg, and there was Zoeasta, who then went to the bottom of the door, sniffing to and fro across the ground plate of solid timber. I did not have to force this door open. I turned the baroque arm of a twist handle, and the door opened easily, as if expertly hung just yesterday, and into a high ceilinged, unfinished but furnished room, stepped me and Zoeasta. The flashlight zipped quickly around, and I almost expected to surprise someone, the space looked so lived in. Zoeasta sniffed the air, back arched against my leg. But I surprised both the cat and myself when I flicked a switch on the wall next to the door we’d just come through and a ceiling lamp, a chandelier with multiple bulbs, flash flooded the room with light, revealing: a US Army canvas cot, a folding bed, a piss pot basin shoved under it, a wool blanket folded across the cot; a mirror hanging over a wood table on which sat a ceramic jug and bowl; an armoire and foot locker; male and female shoes, high laced boots and low quarters, polish and brushes; metal wall cabinet, helmet atop; a kitchen area – towels, bowls, tin cans, counter, small sink, cups; two chairs and a stool; a closet with a sitting stool over a hole and a pull rope from a small tank above; a bookcase full of books; a couch, coffee table with chessboard; ammo boxes, a gun rack; an old turntable and vinyl record albums; a spinet piano, sheet music; rugs, braided; round section of hardwood floor; electrical conduit pipe; a bellows attached to ductwork in the ceiling; a dart board; an accordion; a guitar; at the far side of the room, another door, Zoeasta already sniffing at its sill.

“Zoeasta and the Hidden Room” is episode 31 of Inventories
a Novel in Progress in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Note: With episode 30, the title of the novel was changed
from the original working title of “Ball Lightning” to Inventories.

Blueprints

Down in the basement storage room of Hotel Julian, rummaging through some old boxes, having been instructed by Dawn and Eve to conduct an inventory, I discovered a set of blueprints. I unrolled them on a dust covered desk. The old paper crinkled and popped and cracked a bit. The blueprints appeared to be remodeling plans from the late 1940’s, when to the building was added first floor retail space and large apartments leased long term were converted to smaller rooms for hotel use. The war years produced housing shortages around the port, quonset huts sprouted on empty parcels of land, and existing structures in the area were leveraged where possible for additional living space. The blueprints I stumbled across showed that the current Hotel Julian had not changed much since that late 1940’s renovation. The building occupied a small square block, and consisted of six floors (including the basement and rooftop). In the basement were three separate living space rooms with beds. One of these Dawn lived in, and Eve lived in another. The third was used as a day room for work breaks and lunches and housed a sickbed space for employees that fell ill or got hurt on the job. The basement also included a boiler and maintenance room (the upstairs rooms were heated by steam through a plumbing system using cast iron radiators), a laundry room, and the storage room. The first floor was used for retail space (current occupants as described in Episode 20 of this document). The other floors seemed today consistent with what I saw in the blueprints from the 1940’s: office, the bunkroom, and 4 day or hourly rooms on the 2nd floor (totalling 17 beds – 12 cots in the bunkroom, one single bed in each of the day or hour rooms, and one queen bed in the bedroom adjacent the office, where Julian lived); 12 size double bed rooms let weekly on the third floor (where I was still living week to week); and 8 monthly let rooms on the 4th floor, each with a queen size bed. There were no beds on the rooftop. Thus Hotel Julian contained 40 beds requiring daily housekeeping attention.

“Blueprints ”
is episode 29 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Laurel Canyon Law Library

Lugubrious leather and hardback bound big heavy law books, collections and sets: cases, opinions, decisions, appeals, precedent, jurisdiction, tax, rules of court, forms, procedure, briefs, dictionaries, superseded, encyclopedias, treatises, history, code, session, agreements, administrative, legislative statute, regulatory, indexes, standards, reviews, reports, notes, bound journals, bulging 3 ring binders, looseleaf bins, oral argument, digests, local codes and ordinances, restatements, unpublished cases. Looking around, I thought it probable Cajetan had underbid his first contract job as sole proprietor of the Right On Moving Company. We were to move the private law library of one, Harry D. Luxe, from his home office up in Laurel Canyon down to his law firm office digs on Wilshire Boulevard. And we were to do this lifting and carrying in hands and arms each weighty and valuable tome down a flight of forty winding stone steps to Cajetan’s new van, a 1972 standard cargo Ford Econoline, that, on the way up to the canyon from San Pedro, had smoked, belched, rattled, stalled, incurred a bald tire blowout, and required two gas station stops to refill the overheating radiator with water, all the while Cajetan slip clutch driving stop to stop to conserve what remained of the dangerously thin squealing brake pads. Once we got the van loaded, it would be about a 5 mile drive out of the canyon down to Hollywood Boulevard and over to Fairfax then down to the Miracle Mile. Down there, you can see it from here, Cajetan pointed from the porch of the Laurel Canyon house, which richly afforded a view down the hills into the Los Angeles basin, where the morning fog was now rising like cakelike smog. Not far at all, Cajetan said. Should be able to get this job done in 9 trips, he predicted, predicated on what analysis I had no idea, but I happily picked up a couple of books, one under each arm, and started my first descent of the day down the twisting stairway of stone steps to the waiting van, vaguely wondering if our shocks would survive our first moving gig.

“Laurel Canyon Law Library”
is episode 28 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)

Turning Down

Housekeeping. The Right on Moving Company. 

Julien, upon hearing I was considering finding some part time work and moving from a weekly to a monthly room in Hotel Julien, told me he might be looking to add to his housekeeping staff now that the fleet was in. When I asked him to talk more about that, I learned his housekeeping staff consisted of two supervisors, two women, twins, who had been with him for years. They both worked seven days a week, one, called Dawn, from 7 in the morning, when the Bunkroom was to be vacated, to 7 in the evening, when the hotel would usually be full for the night, the other, named Eve, from 7 in the evening to 7 in the morning. Their staff consisted of part timers, students, mostly, or single moms from the neighborhood, looking for flexible days and hours and easygoing job sharing and scheduling with few rules or recriminations. Dawn and Eve were permanent employees, the rest of the housekeeping staff was considered temporary and paid under the table in cash. The duties and responsibilities of the housekeepers including turning down rooms, sweeping and vacuuming, working the laundry room, cleaning bathrooms, stocking supplies of sheets, blankets, pillow cases, towels and toiletries, washing windows, and cleaning up the Rooftop – washing dishes, tables, mopping floors. At the same time, Cajetan told me he had invested in some capital – he had purchased a used van and secured a job moving a personal law library from a home in Laurel Canyon to an office on Wilshire. He asked me would I help him out with his first job, about a day or two of manual labor moving books, he estimated. And he had big plans, having painted The Right On Moving Company on the sides of his van. Suddenly I was flush with job opportunities and said yes to both offers. Since I would be busy with Cajetan during the day, Eve suggested I start by helping with the Rooftop cleanups, which began around 11 in the evening and depending on the mess, might last an hour or two, Thursday through Sunday, the four nights a week the bar and grill was open. It’s an odd feeling going suddenly from unemployment to employment, of any kind. I wrote Sylvie a postcard: “Spent most of the day doing nothing, pondering the universe, with no conclusions. Start two part time jobs tomorrow. Determined to turn down the noise of the gods and pay attention to these new people in my life, and the pleasures of work.”

“Turning Down”
is episode 27 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads.
(Click link for continuous, one page view of all episodes.)