Earlier in this narrative, I mentioned the “modest apartment” I was living in while I was toy wrapping at Harrods. Confession: I was being exceedingly generous with the “modest.”
Weeks prior to my leaving on a month-long visit to Canada, though I had rented a room in her house for seven months, my landlady, Mrs. Tompkins, evicted me for having too many – I believe the number was two – boisterous Canadian visitors ringing her doorbell asking, “Is Earl here?”
Boisterous Canadians. Can you imagine?
Aware that I did not want to squander a lot of rent money on a place that would be vacant during the month that I was gone – because I kept whining and complaining about it at every available opportunity – “me mates” found me inexpensive replacement “digs”, not in cushy Hampstead where I’d been living, but in the Euston Station area of London, a more downscale locale where, though it was 1967, the devastational rubble from the “Blitz” had not entirely been carted away.
The rent for my new place, however, was a manageable two pounds a week. (About five-and-a-half dollars.) My accommodations, were I to evaluate them today, would rate no more than a notch or two above “homeless” – a shabbily furnished single room with an adjoining less-than-up-to-date kitchen, a shared toilet down the hall, and…wait for it…
No bathtub and no shower.
Hey, what do you want for five dollars a week!
I have written elsewhere about being required to visit the Oasis Public Baths on Shaftsbury Avenue, a half a mile’s walk from my apartment, where, for the price of a shilling (about fifteen cents), after waiting on a bench alongside coal-blackened miners, my number would be called like in a bakery, I would receive a thin towel and a tiny bar of soap, and I would be escorted down a corridor to a small room with a bathtub in it, where I would be given fifteen minutes to do my business, after which there would be a knock on the door, indicating that my time was up.
In the dictionary beside the word “humiliating”, there is a picture of me, sitting forlornly in that public bathtub.
The good news was…
The Harrods “Employees Facilities” had showers.
Now – oh, happy day-ay – I could shower at work!
As I relievedly did.
On numerous lunchtimes, after eating my subsidized meal at the canteen, I would excuse myself without explanation, and head happily to the comfort and cleanliness of the locale that would spare me the indignity of future visits to the public bathhouse.
And it was heavenly – a fancy store with a fancy bathroom. Even for the employees. Now I could clean up at my leisure. No more fifteen-minute deadline, where, if I was not finished on time, I got “The Knock.”
I don’t know, this may be just me. But whenever I’m in a tiled bathroom (or a large parking garage), I sing. I can’t help it, the acoustics are irresistible. Also, when I’m happy, I sing. Here I was, in a tiled bathroom and deliriously happy.
So I sang.
“To dream…the impossible dream…
To fight…the unbeatable foe…
To bear…with unbearable sorrow…
To run…where the brave dare not go….
Man, I sounded good! So good, in fact, that when I arrived at the end of “The Impossible Dream”…
I sang it again.
Finally, my unfailing internal clock – I do not wear a watch – informed me that it was time to return to work. I dried off, I got dressed, I brushed my hair, and I stepped into the store, returning, rejuvenated, to the back room where there was some heavy-duty toy wrapping to be done.
My co-workers greeted me, all agitated and excited.
“Did you hear that?”
I had no idea what they were talking about.
What they were talking about, it turned out, was what all of Harrods was abuzz about. Sometime while I was taking my shower, bursting from all of the air vents in the building was this surreal and entirely unexpected voice. And that voice was…
Loud, declarative (I believe they used the word “bellowing”) singing.
And despite a thorough investigation,
Nobody could figure out where it was coming from.
Of course, by now you are ahead of me. Apparently – and, of course, I did not know this – when you sing in the shower of the Harrods Employees’ Men Room, what you believe to be private entertainment emerges out of all of the air vents in the store!
That day, everyone in Harrods – the customers, the sales personnel, the managers, the toy wrappers – had all heard me singing, “The Impossible Dream.” I, of course, never revealed that it was me. In fact, my only response to the matter was a simple,
“How did he sound?”
You would think that that would be the high point of my entire toy wrapping experience at Harrods.
Until you hear about the even higher one in tomorrow’s post.