page contents

Signs and Reasons by Nancy Antle

The first inkling I have that this is not going be an ordinary workday is when I drive into the parking lot. My car is swarmed by a horde of middle-aged women all screaming like they thought Elvis suddenly lost his damn mind and decided to drive up to the hotel in a 1971, puke yellow Pinto, with no air-conditioning in the middle of August. Please ladies, get a grip. We’d known he was going to stay at the hotel and at first I’d been as excited as everyone else, but by the time he showed up I could have cared less. Having him stay there was just a pain-in-the-neck with no upside as far as I could see. The chances of actually meeting The King, or even laying eyes on him, were slim to none judging by all the security everywhere.

My best friend, Angel, shows up for work the same time as me and they go after his car too, which at least makes some sense. He has a shiny black ’57 Chevy with tinted windows. He’s painted it and fixed up the interior so it at least looks like a fancy car. No one can tell that the engine is a piece of shit like mine. I have to laugh when he gets out of the car. No way could anyone mistake Angel for Elvis since he’s about a third of his size – skinny and short. The look of disappointment on those ladies faces is hilarious.

Every day when I get to my job I have fourteen rooms to clean by 3 PM. Angel works in the laundry. It’s hard work and all we ever have in mind is to get in and get out as fast as possible. Which it isn’t – possible – if everyone is lolly-gagging around not doing a lick of work, trying to get a glimpse of Elvis as if he is Jesus come down to earth for the second coming instead of a flesh and blood man who will probably make as big a mess of his room as every other musician who has ever stayed at the Sheraton Inn/Skyline East in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Sheraton has the misfortune, at least to my mind, of being the newest and biggest hotel in town so we attract every act that comes to the Civic Center. It makes working here a challenge – to say the least. Of course, Elvis is the biggest name we’ve had here by a long shot.

You’d think that at least the head housekeeper, Gladys, who used to work at the la-di-dah Hilton in Oklahoma City would be able to hold it together. After all, she’s seen it all according to her – rock stars, actors, even President Richard M. Nixon himself before he got tossed out in ’74. But she’s acting like a teenager today, just like the women in the parking lot. She’s the person who runs up to me as soon as I set foot in the laundry room. I’m focused on clocking in and getting my list of rooms to clean for the day but suddenly she acts like she’s my best friend.

“Elvis is in the house!” she screeches right in my face.

I glance at Angel and he rolls his eyes then Gladys takes my hands and starts in jumping up and down as if she expects me to join her dance. But what is she thinking? Elvis is not going to come down for a visit – shoot the bull with us – drink a cup of coffee. My husband, Stan, is a huge Elvis fan and he thinks I should try to meet the big man. Stan says I’ll be sorry if I don’t at least try. I pointed out that we are not talking about the young, good-looking Elvis. We’re talking about the old Elvis who dresses in those jumpsuits that make him look like a fat super hero. I don’t know why anyone would want to see that Elvis. Stan says Elvis should be a role model for all of us who are struggling to make it. His daddy went to jail once and they lost their house, and they lived in public housing and had public assistance for food and Elvis even got a “C” in singing but he didn’t let any of that get him down he just kept trying – and look at him now.

I don’t see how it applies to us. It’s not like we’re trying to be rich and famous. We just want to be a little better off. That’s all. Stan says the point is that it’s our dream and we should follow it. He also thinks I like Elvis more than I let on and that if I met him face to face I’d be just as gaga as everyone else – and I might even be inspired. I didn’t admit it when he said it, but he could be right. But I’m not going to get to meet Elvis so why set myself up for disappointment? I’ve had enough of that.

I politely remove my hands from Glady’s grip and go about my business finding my time card and my list. Gladys looks at me with her head cocked to one side like a little shih tzu I used to have, as if she doesn’t understand what my problem is.

“Don’t you like Elvis?” she asks.

“Sure,” I say. “He’s got a great voice and I like hearing him sing. But I still got rooms to clean.”

“But we might actually SEE him!” Marilyn says.

Gladys grabs Marilyn’s hand and they do a little twirl around the laundry room when only yesterday Marilyn and Alice were talking about what a stuck up bitch Gladys is.

“I’ve loved Elvis my whole life,” Alice croons from across the room where she’s loading her cart.

“Me too!” Marilyn says. “I just read a story in The Enquirer about how he bought a Cadillac for some woman he met at the last hotel he stayed in. We could get lucky!”

“Oh, I see,” Angel says. “You don’t really like Elvis you just want him to give you a car.” He laughs and winks at me.

I shake my head. It’s always the same with people, isn’t it?

Angel and I graduated from the same high school ten years ago and both of us have plans to get the hell out of here one day. Angel was going to go in half with his brother-in-law on a bar downtown but that fell through and he’s looking to invest somewhere else. Stan and I want to buy our own motel and I thought maybe Angel could come in with us but Stan didn’t like the idea at all. He’s always been kind of jealous of Angel even though he ought to know by now that there never has been – and never will be – anything more between us than friendship. Stan says we’ll get our motel one day on our own. But, one day is looking farther and farther off lately. Especially now that Stan blew out that disc in his back and can’t work.

“So you guys aren’t interested in going up to the 11th floor and helping us clean Elvis’s rooms later?” Gladys asks.

I waffle for a minute then say, “No thanks. Y’all go on. Have fun. You can tell me about it later.”

“I can’t wait!” Marilyn says. “It will make a great story to tell my grandkids some day – how I got to clean The King’s room.”

“Now wait a minute,” Gladys says reverting back to her better-than-us ways. “I’m the one who gets to clean HIS room. Y’all will get to come up there with me and you can look but you get to clean the band’s rooms. And we’re gonna have to do them fast. They only leave for 30 minutes and they have three suites plus four doubles.”

Marilyn and Alice start in complaining and arguing but I haven’t got time to listen. I grab my list of rooms for the day and go out the door. Angel follows me with his empty laundry cart so he can gather the dirty linen.

“It’s gonna be one of those days,” he says.

“Yeah. Those guys at the front desk will have a shit fit when the regular rooms aren’t cleaned by check-in. And, I’ll be damned if I’m staying late to get ‘em done.”

Angel laughs as we get on the elevator. He gets off on the 6th floor and I head up to the 10th where I’m stationed for the day. I get a cart from the closet, then head down the hall. While I’m scrubbing the first toilet I think about Elvis and wonder if his mama ever had to do this kind of thing for a living. That’s something I’d like to ask him if I ever got the chance. And maybe I’d like to know how he kept from giving up on his music when his teachers told him he wasn’t any good. I used to have a better attitude too.

Most days I get through my work by telling myself that one day I won’t have to put up with this shit. I look for signs that this is about to happen all the time. You know things like getting a free can of Coke in the vending machine or seeing a deer in my yard when we live in the middle of the city. I take those kinds of things – things you don’t see every day – as signs that my luck is about to change. When my luck changes, I’ll be in charge of my own place and have maids working for me. That’s been my dream for a long time. Stan and I got our sights set on a little twenty room motel over on the north side. The owner, Merrill, says he clears a shitload of cash every week from all the people who stay there on the weekends and go to the drag races just a few miles away.

I’ve been looking forward to that for a long time. Not having to count every penny would be a treat. Merrill said he’d wait for us to save up the down payment. But he’s been waiting a while and I don’t know how much longer we have. We don’t have zero in the bank but we have less than we did before Stan tried to move some iron on his own and did in his back. Course, the boss was a dick and said that Stan didn’t hurt himself on the job since that day Stan went about his work as if he was okay – trying to be all macho. The next day he couldn’t move. The union rep got it all straightened out, though. Finally.

I was whining about our bad luck, lying beside Stan on the floor one night watching TV and he said we just have to keep a positive attitude and not lose hope. Unlike me, he doesn’t look for signs. But he does think that everything happens for a reason, that God has a master plan. I think that’s bullshit and told Stan that if that was the case maybe the reason he lifted that pile of iron was so that he could quit being an ironworker and get a safer job. Stan believes so much in that whole line of reasoning that he agreed with me for once. Course, then he went on talking about how if we don’t get Merrill’s motel it must be because there is another, better one, out there just waiting for us to find it. He says our ship will come in one day. He is full of all kinds of good lines. I laughed about that one seeing as how we’re in the middle of the goddamn country with no ocean in sight where a ship could be.

“You have a point,” Stan said. “But there’s the Port of Catoosa right here.”

The Port of Catoosa is a big ass manmade inland waterway that all the companies use to ship their crap.

“Ships don’t come in here,” I said.

“Excuse me then,” Stan said. “Our barge will come in one day.”

He’s good at making me laugh.

Course, since he seemed to be in such a good mood I kind of suggested that maybe the reason Angel’s deal fell through with his brother-in-law was so he could help us out with our dream – which, as I said, was an idea that Stan had already rejected. I could see right away that I’d made a mistake and that Stan’s belief in things happening for a reason had a limit and he kind of quit talking to me for the rest of the night. I can be kind of a nag, I know, but Stan is so damn stubborn sometimes he makes me want to scream.

Being on the 10th floor at the hotel today puts me one floor down from Elvis on the top. Not that it makes any difference to me.   I knock loudly on the first door on my list and holler “Maid” as I’ve been instructed to do even though they have their “Housekeeping Please” sign on the door. You never know. Sometimes they aren’t paying attention and get the sign turned wrong and meant to have the “Do Not Disturb” facing out. And sometimes no matter how loud you yell or knock the people inside don’t hear you. Like the guy I walked in on a few months ago, all dressed up like Little Bo Peep except for his you-know-what who was handcuffed to the bedpost and having his picture taken by another man. I got out of there fast, I can tell you. But it was a good story to tell Stan who laughed so hard it’s a wonder he didn’t blow out another disc in his back.

The people from this room are probably having the complimentary breakfast downstairs. They are listed as staying for several days and I whip through the room fast. They’ve left me $5 with a note that says “thanks.” I want to find them and hug them and tell them to tell all their friends that they should always leave a tip for the maid every day, if they’re going to do it, and not wait for the last day of their stay to leave it. If they wait it’s liable to be their maid’s day off and then Alice who is covering for their maid might end up with the tip when she didn’t deserve a dime of it. And she is also very likely to deny that they left any tip at all. Just saying.

I clean a few more rooms and then mid-morning a group of maybe ten giggling girls, teenagers by the look of them, try to get up the stairs to the eleventh floor but there’s a hotel guard just inside the stairwell who asks them what they think they’re doing.

“Going to see Elvis!” one of them blurts out. Then they burst into peals of laughter and run off down the hall. I hear the guard talking on his hand-held radio about sending someone up to escort the young women from the premises, like he’s some hotshot detective with a life and death situation instead of a rent-a-cop dealing with groupies.

I have seven and a half rooms cleaned by noon and decide to take a break. I clock out and get my lunch from the refrigerator where Gladys keeps all the leftovers she brings back from her lunches at Red Lobster and Denny’s. As much food as she brings back and never eats, it seems like a big waste of money to me.

Not many maids have shown up for lunch besides me. Angel comes in and sits down and pops the top on his Coke just as Gladys and Alice and Marilyn come prancing into the laundry room. They are laughing and joking and Gladys holds aloft a giant pair of men’s underwear. Even from where I’m sitting I can see the brown skid mark on the butt side and I lose my appetite in a hurry.

“I stole Elvis’s drawers!” Gladys proclaims.

Marilyn and Alice laugh and tell her she’d better keep good track of them or they might go missing.

“How do you know they’re Elvis’s?” I ask.

“They were in his room,” Gladys says. “In his bed.”

“Are you sure that was his room?” Angel says. “Maybe he’s in another suite and you got the bodyguard’s dirty laundry.”

“No,” Gladys says. “The desk told me that was where Elvis was sleeping.”

Marilyn grabs the underwear from Gladys then and runs around the room with them clutched in her hands, holding them close to her face. This makes everyone laugh including me, but it also makes me want to throw-up. Gladys races after Marilyn and a tug-o-war ensues over the drawers. It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. Even if by some miracle they really do belong to Elvis – shit, is shit – they are a long way from some sacred holy object.

“You’ve lost your damn minds,” Angel says.

His words must have got through to some shred of sense they had left. Gladys and Marilyn both let go of the underwear at the same time and it snaps back into a wad of white on the floor like a crumpled up dust rag. One of the older maids, Rose, walks over, bends down stiffly and picks up the drawers between two fingers and carries them to the trash by the back door. She lets them drop inside the can then goes and washes her hands at the sink before she finishes her sandwich.

I throw my sandwich in the trash as the phone rings on the wall, making us all jump about a mile. Of course, Gladys answers it. She talks for a few minutes but I can’t hear exactly what she’s saying over the dryer. Not that I want to.

When she hangs up the phone she turns around to us with a funny grin on her face.

“That was my friend, Ray, who works in security,” she says slowly. “Elvis is leaving for the Civic Center around 3 PM. Ray wanted to tell me in case I wanted to see Elvis before he ducks into his limo.”

“Whooo boy!” Alice shouts. “Tell us where to wait!”

“He told me the limo’s going to pull up at the north entrance since they can drive up there without anyone seeing them from 31st street.”

“We should all wait and get his autograph!” Marilyn says.

“Let’s make him a peanut butter and banana sandwich to take with him!” Alice adds. “I bet he’d like that.”

“And a new scarf to wear at his concert. I saw a red silk one in the gift shop,” Gladys says. “You guys go hurry and get your rooms done then anyone who wants can meet me at 2:30. We’ll show Elvis how much we care about him.”

Angel and I watch everyone scatter then he grabs a cart full of towels and sheets that he’s going to take to restock the closet on the 10th floor. We get on the elevator and go up together.

“You going to wait with them to see Elvis?” I ask him.

He shakes his head. “You?”

“I’m not going to hurry on his account,” I say. “If I’m done in time, I’ll go down and wait.”

“Where do you suppose he was when they cleaned his room?” Angel asks as we are walking down the hall towards my cart. “I mean he can’t exactly go have breakfast in the lobby with everyone else.”

I shrug. “Maybe he went out to Roy Clark’s or Leon Russell’s – they live close.”

“He was only gone a little while.”

“Hell, Angel, maybe he went to the drive through at McDonald’s,” I say. “He’s packing on those pounds somewhere.”

Angel laughs at my joke as he steers his cart to the storage closet at the end of the hall.

I get back to cleaning and thinking that maybe I should call Stan and check on him, see if he needs anything – give him an Elvis update just for fun. He’d probably get a good laugh over the underwear tussle. But I’m sure if I used one of the room phones someone would find out and I’d get in trouble – although it wouldn’t be with Gladys today. She’s a bit distracted.

By two o’clock I’m almost done with my rooms, ahead of schedule, but then that’s when Alice and Marilyn bounce out of the elevator and beg me to please take their last two rooms – four rooms all together — so that they can go wait with Gladys and everyone else by the north entrance and try to see Elvis. They’re worried he might come down earlier than predicted and want to get a good spot. Unless of course, I want to go with them and see Elvis for myself. I tell them I don’t, which is pretty much the truth, and I agree to clean their rooms since I can see that Elvis means so much to them they might never speak to me again if I don’t. I’ve still got to work here for a while yet and I don’t want to be working with people who hold a grudge. Besides, by now I don’t really believe anybody here at the Sheraton is going to see Elvis – anymore than Stan and I are going to get Merrill’s motel. Some things in life are just not going to happen no matter how much you want them – or how many signs you have.

I find Angel and he says he’ll help me clean if I want since he’s done with his part for the day. By some miracle, with Angel’s help and even with all the distractions, I get my rooms done plus the extra four, by 3 PM just like usual. While I restock my cart from the 10th floor closet, Angel asks if Stan has had a change of heart yet about him going in partners with us. I shake my head.

“Man, what is wrong with that dude. Did you tell him me and you…”

“Yeah, lots of times but he’s still against it. It might have something to do with the fact that he can’t work at all right now – he feels kind of useless – and well, you’re not.”

“Alright, I guess. It sure would be great though. Stan could take care of the front desk and not have to do much. Did you mention that?”

I roll my eyes. “Angel, we’ve been all over this. I don’t know what else I can say.”

Angel sighs and plops a pile of towels onto the top of my cart. Restocking doesn’t take long and pretty soon we are getting on the elevator and I push the button for the first floor.

Angel looks at his watch. “I wonder if they got to see him yet.”

“Probably. I’m sure we’ll get an earful when we clock out.”

The elevator stops on the third floor. The doors glide open after the ding. Elvis gets on with two football player type men with crew cuts and dark suits. I’m not sure but I think my mouth drops open. I feel like I’ve suddenly entered some weird dream state, as I stare at Elvis standing big as life right in front of me. He smells like aftershave and beer and is wearing an old black sweat suit and ugly running shoes. He doesn’t turn around like any normal person who gets on an elevator. He keeps facing us smiling like he wants to give us the full benefit of his presence.

“What’s your name, ma’am?” he asks.

I can’t remember so Angel answers for me. Elvis takes my hand and kisses it then shakes Angel’s hand. Then he takes my list of rooms from me and writes a note made out to me on the back. I take the paper when he offers and keep it clutched in my hand as if were a million dollars. And then he does the most amazing thing of all. He reaches into his jacket pocket, pulls out a hundred dollar bill and gives it to me. I whisper “Thank you” as if my voice might make this moment explode into dust. Elvis just smiles.

On the first floor, Elvis turns around finally and gets out of the elevator. He turns back to look at us and says, “Nice to meet y’all” then heads for the east door. For a moment I think maybe I fell asleep on the way down and he was never there at all. But then Angel says, “Holy Shit!” and I know he was – especially when I read the note he wrote: Keep on keeping on! Love, Elvis.

I show it to Angel and he says “Holy Shit!” again and then I say we have to go to the front desk to get the hundred changed into two fifties so Angel can have half but he says “no.” He wants me to take it to Stan and tell him Angel turned down half so maybe Stan will take it as a sign that Angel is a good guy.

We clock out then and run to the parking lot to get in our cars and go home. I rev the engine on my Pinto and grind it into gear. While I’m driving down 31st Street, I think about how scuzzy Elvis’s running shoes were and how his velour track suit had little pills on it just like Stan’s does from washing it about a hundred times and how Elvis’s handwriting looked like he was still that kid who got a “C” in music. I know when I tell Stan all about this he’s going to say that this proves everything happens for a reason. If I hadn’t cleaned those extra rooms I never would have seen Elvis. I’ll have to agree that he has a point but then I’m also going to hand him the autograph and the money and tell him about Angel and let him know I think those are all signs that our barge is about to come in – no doubt about it.

Nancy Antle recently completed an MFA in Creative Writing/Fiction at Southern Connecticut State University. Prior to that, she wrote books and stories for children and young adults and was published with Dial, Viking, Simon Schuster and Cricket Magazine. She is now attempting to restart her career and write for an older audience. Her recent short stories have been published in Drunk Monkeys (“Following Howard”), Rock Bottom, and The Los Angeles Review of LA.