Johnny America


Hamp­ton Inn Room 306


“It is as if we were to say that a book on a shelf will of its own ac­cord jump up­ward. This, in fact, can oc­cur and if we wait long enough it will oc­cur. We need on­ly the pa­tience to wait for the ran­dom vi­bra­tions of all the mol­e­cules from which the pa­per is com­posed to align in the up­ward di­rec­tion. This might oc­cur once in the myr­i­ad of a bil­lion years and there­fore that rare oc­cur­rence might oc­cur right now, but it won’t. Al­though in the­o­ry an event may oc­cur, sta­tis­tics have told us that in re­al­i­ty when the prob­a­bil­i­ty of an event oc­cur­ring is very, very small, then there is es­sen­tial­ly ze­ro chance of it occurring.”

— Ger­ald L. Schroed­er, P.h.D.

Samm felt sog­gy. Sit­ting in a stale con­fer­ence room at the back of the First Se­cu­ri­ty Bank of Wau­nau­kee Wis­con­sin work­ing on an au­dit for the State Bank Ex­am­in­ers of­fice he looked at his watch. The time was ten forty-five in the A.M. Samm not­ed this on a piece of scrap pa­per along with the word “north­bound”. Less than three hours in­to a four-day job Sam was nine­ty per­cent fin­ished with the work and his bore­dom had reached such a pitch that he was now not­ing the times and di­rec­tions of the Wis­con­sin Cen­tral-Cana­di­an North­ern freight trains as they rum­bled along the tracks be­hind the bank.

Samm won­dered how his life got this way, rec­ol­lect­ing vague­ly a time when life seemed ex­cit­ing, full of pos­si­bil­i­ty, promise even. He re­mem­bered when he’d felt in­spired, even though he couldn’t quite re­mem­ber what be­ing in­spired felt like. Maybe that’s life though, he thought, maybe you leave the naïve op­ti­mism of youth be­hind you and set­tle for what you can get, which in his case was a shit­ty job and lone­ly nights in one-horse towns through­out south­ern Wisconsin.

Samm winced while watch­ing his part­ner Gary, across the ta­ble, per­spir­ing over his work, cran­ing his red, ir­ri­tat­ed neck in­side his col­lar and mak­ing grunt­ing and snort­ing nois­es that sound­ed like he was mov­ing his bow­els, or god for­bid, hav­ing sex. A cold sweat washed over Samm’s en­tire body and he looked out the win­dow at the wob­bling grain train cars grind­ing past.

At lunch Samm ate at a sand­wich shop a cou­ple blocks up Main street from the bank, and dumped three quar­ters of a foot-long sub and some corn chips in­to the trash. Al­ways try­ing, with waste­ful re­sults, to pack a lit­tle meat on to his gaunt, six-five frame, food just seemed to make him nau­seous anymore.

Out­side on Main street it was a beau­ti­ful day in Wau­nau­kee. Samm strolled down the street some­where be­tween de­pressed and in­dif­fer­ent. He watched girls flit in and out of cars and Main street shops like watch­ing but­ter­flies in a gar­den; soft, col­or­ful and un­at­tain­able. He won­dered if maybe one of those girls was ‘the one’ and all he had to do was talk to her and she would tell him that she was lone­ly too and her life had lost its mean­ing, and to­geth­er every­thing would change about their world, but he doubt­ed it.

He turned in­to a shop that sold used CDs and rif­fled through the stacks. There was a pret­ty girl work­ing the counter who Samm could not keep from steal­ing glances at as he searched through the rows of discs. He won­dered what her name was, if she was mar­ried or had a boyfriend. He won­dered what the odds were of her say­ing ‘yes’ if he asked her to go out with him tonight. A cou­ple times she’d looked over in his di­rec­tion and once smiled be­fore look­ing away. Was she smil­ing at him or had a hap­py mem­o­ry just hap­pened to have crossed her mind as she in­dis­crim­i­nate­ly gazed back to this far cor­ner of the store? Did she think he was good look­ing, maybe she was just be­ing friend­ly, maybe she was laugh­ing at him.

Samm searched for some­thing to buy so he could have an ex­cuse to ap­proach the counter and talk to her. He saw about a dozen al­bums he thought he might like to have, but he knew in his heart that af­ter two or three lis­tens they’d all end up in the leather bound car­ry­ing case in his car with a hun­dred oth­ers he nev­er lis­tened to any­more. What’s the point? He wondered.

By the counter on the way out he stopped to look through the dis­count rack and try one last ditch ef­fort to sum­mon up the courage to ask this girl out. While rack­ing his brain for some­thing charis­mat­ic to say to her he came across the al­bum “Neck­tie Sec­ond” by Pe­te Droge. Af­ter about ten sec­onds of search­ing his mem­o­ry for where the name Pe­te Droge sound­ed fa­mil­iar, he re­mem­bered that he had once seen him per­form live as the open­ing act for Tom Pet­ty and the Heart­break­ers. He couldn’t re­mem­ber any­thing about that show specif­i­cal­ly, but he thought he had liked it pret­ty well. The list of tracks didn’t ring any bells, but ti­tles like North­bound Train, and If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Kill My­self) piqued his in­ter­est. It was on­ly $1.99, and if noth­ing else it gave him the ex­cuse he’d want­ed to talk to the girl be­hind the counter, so he took it up to her and laid it on the glass.

“Is this all?” she asked him, with a smile.

“Yeah,” Samm said hoarse­ly. Ap­par­ent­ly he’d for­got­ten to swal­low as he ap­proached the counter so now he was tak­ing big, Adams ap­ple con­vuls­ing gulps try­ing to get a lit­tle mois­ture to his burn­ing throat.

“It’ll be two-ten.” she said. Samm hand­ed her a five, still un­able to speak. “Two-ninety’s your change. Have a nice one,” she said, smiling.

“Thanks, you too.” Samm whis­pered on his way out the door.

At the bank Samm re­played the scene at the mu­sic store over in his head re­peat­ed­ly. Some­times he would say all the right things, fun­ny, wit­ty things and the girl across the counter would laugh and her eyes would sparkle and they would fall in love right there. Oth­er times he would re­call it with em­bar­rass­ment and self-loathing, ex­act­ly as it had gone down and wish that he had nev­er gone in­to that stu­pid store. He wrung his hands and clenched his jaw en­vi­sion­ing the night he wouldn’t be spend­ing with a beau­ti­ful girl dis­cov­er­ing Wau­nau­kee but would be spend­ing alone in a ho­tel room watch­ing ESPN and eat­ing din­ner in. Samm was con­sumed with a melan­choly de­spair, fore­see­ing with a sick­en­ing grief the next three days spent in this god-for­sak­en town.

At five o’clock Samm called it a day, toss­ing his pa­pers with the times and di­rec­tions of rail­road ac­tiv­i­ty in­to his brief­case and check­ing his itin­er­ary to find out what ho­tel he was checked in­to for the week.

The Hamp­ton Inn, on Cana­di­an North­ern blvd.

Where else had he read some­thing about the Hamp­ton Inn to­day? Samm stood over his brief case star­ing at it dumb­ly as the day’s myr­i­ad of thoughts re­wound in his head, search­ing for the words Hamp­ton Inn. Then his eyes came in­to fo­cus on the Pe­te Droge al­bum he’d pur­chased at the mu­sic store. Dust­ing off the bad kar­ma, he flipped it over and read the track list­ing on back. Track eleven was ti­tled Hamp­ton Inn Room 306.

Dri­ving across town Samm won­dered ca­su­al­ly what the odds were of get­ting room 306. They couldn’t be very good. A ho­tel that size prob­a­bly has close to a hun­dred and fifty rooms, he fig­ured, which would make it less than one per­cent, in the first place. Fur­ther­more, the very fact that to­day he hap­pened to buy an ob­scure CD with a track ti­tled Hamp­ton Inn Room 306 on it seemed to make it that much more re­mote. But still, for some un­name­able rea­son he couldn’t dis­miss it from his mind, as a mat­ter of fact, he was al­most sure he was go­ing to get room 306.

“Hi,” Samm said, set­ting his suit­case down in front of the desk in the Hamp­ton Inn lob­by, “I have a reser­va­tion here with State of Wis­con­sin Bank Ex­am­in­ers Office.”

“Okay,” said a young, dark haired man, be­hind the desk. “What’s the name on that reservation?”

“Should be Blanken­ship.” Said Samm Blanken­ship. The young man pro­duced some pa­pers and Samm signed on the (x).

“Okay, here’s your key. You can take the el­e­va­tor up to the third floor, take a left and it’ll be your fourth door on the right side of the hall. You’re in room three o’six.”

Samm paced around Hamp­ton Inn room 306, in a sort of en­thu­si­as­tic state of shock. Here was some­thing, he thought, some­thing dif­fer­ent! Noth­ing like this had ever hap­pened to him be­fore and he felt it sat­u­rat­ed with mean­ing, it was in the air in the room mak­ing his skin goose up.

What are the odds?! he won­dered, des­per­ate­ly now. He tried to ra­tio­nal­ize it sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly, to pass it off as a co­in­ci­dence. What was that old say­ing, a mil­lion mon­keys bang­ing on a mil­lion type­writ­ers would even­tu­al­ly re­pro­duce the en­tire works of Shake­speare? He knew all this, he was an ac­coun­tant, he was aware of sta­tis­tics and prob­a­bil­i­ty and all of that, but that was just ex­act­ly why he couldn’t pass it off. The truth of it is that a tril­lion mon­keys on a zil­lion type­writ­ers nev­er would make Shake­speare be­cause things like this don’t just hap­pen, they hap­pen for a rea­son. Samm had nev­er been a re­li­gious man, but he be­lieved in things un­seen and un­known. He be­lieved in things like signs, that there could be times when the un­known shows a glimpse of it­self to mankind. He be­lieved that things had mean­ing and pur­pose, and he was haunt­ed by the ques­tion, what pur­pose? What is the mean­ing of Hamp­ton Inn Room 306?

Samm laid down on his bed and then stood up. He walked to the win­dow and looked out at the cars in the park­ing lot be­hind the Hamp­ton Inn, be­yond that some rail­road tracks with a freight train glid­ing silent­ly north­bound, fol­lowed by a small air­port way off on the hori­zon be­yond a corn field. He sat down in the chair by the bed stand. He took the Gideon’s bible from the top draw­er, opened it, leafed through it, closed it, put it back in the draw­er. He turned on the tele­vi­sion, then turned it off. He walked across the room, then came back. He lay back down on the bed and stared up at the ceil­ing. What do you do when the uni­verse gives you a sign? Samm laid still and wait­ed for some­thing to happen.

Filed under Fiction on November 19th, 2005

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