Excerpts from Hammers
DEE: We were in high school.
I guess everything’s bigger in high school, cause it’s the whole world shrunk down into Abraham Lincoln High.
So you see this guy coming out of shop class, old Mr. Killian’s class, he’s like a god, or a movie star. I noticed his walk, like there’s no hurry, but he’s going someplace and why not come along?
Oh did I want that close up.
We could have nice kids together. Nope, hey, I thought, don’t think about having kids, think about passing English, go to college, maybe. Me in college, wouldn’t that be a trip!
Wrote your name all down the side of the test. Chuck. Ratowitz. My mom said, “Is that Polish?”
Mom, Dad, what I ever got from them. Families, heck, you don’t expect love, I guess, if people got that they wouldn’t have to make movies about it. “Hey guys, if you can’t give me love, at least could you give me the waffle iron?”
Waffle iron says home to me. I wanted that so bad, and my sister got the waffle iron.
Chuck, could we get a waffle iron?
SOPHIA: Is this the young man?
MARTY: This is Chuck.
SOPHIA: Come here. What’s your name?
CHUCK: Chuck.
MARTY: Chuck Ratowitz.
SOPHIA: Is he Jewish?
CHUCK: No. No, ma’am, I—
SOPHIA: That’s no concern of mine. Is he trustworthy?
MARTY: I got his references.
SOPHIA: He’s extremely young.
CHUCK: I can’t help that.
SOPHIA: Strong-willed. Do you have a family?
CHUCK: Girlfriend. Brother. And my dad’s dead. My mom’s a bookkeeper in Arizona. That’s all.
SOPHIA: They keep books in Arizona. Are you strong?
CHUCK: Oh yeh, I’m strong. I do this work all my life.
SOPHIA: Why are you looking for work?
CHUCK: Well I need the money. I been out of work for a while, I—
SOPHIA: This is carpentry.
CHUCK: Well I’m a carpenter. Sure.
SOPHIA: Why do you hide your hands?
CHUCK: No, I’m—
SOPHIA: Are you afraid of me?
CHUCK: No. . . no. . .
SOPHIA: Then why are you rocking? Do you have to urinate?
CHUCK: N— No, ma’am, not at all—
SOPHIA: Pick up one of those.
Indicating the bowl of clear glass marbles.
Put it in your mouth.
He hesitates, looks at Marty, who nods.
Now spit it out. Just directly down there out of your mouth please.
TOUR GUIDE: The house contains one hundred sixty rooms. The building continued steadily, twenty-four hours a day, for thirty-eight years, engulfing a number of outlying structures until Miss Weatherlee’s death.
There’s a lot of history here. Of course there’s history in your kitchen, knives and forks, dinner plates, many tales one might tell, if you knew them.
Although she was eccentric, those closest to her said she was quite sane. Her servants were very loyal. One carpenter stayed with her for thirty-seven years.
SOPHIA: We have business here.
CHUCK: Yes ma’am?
SOPHIA: We have several developments. First, that Marty is no longer your foreman. We disagreed in regard to walls.
He will continue here as a carpenter, he’s a good carpenter, and he conveyed desperation in terms of livelihood, so that is the way it will be. What do you say?
CHUCK: He, uh, seemed upset about the wall. . .
SOPHIA: And so you are to be foreman.
SOPHIA: With a rise in salary. I won’t ask if you’re capable, because of course you are. You’re qualified by virtue of your salary increase.
CHUCK: Sure, I guess, I mean— The only thing is, I don’t know I’d be as good a foreman as Marty, I mean he hired me, he’s got a lot more experience—
SOPHIA: Did you see the sunrise this morning?
CHUCK: Sunrise? Nope.
SOPHIA: You must in the future. It begins the day.
CHUCK: So. . . I’m gonna be foreman, is what you’re saying?
SOPHIA: You know the odd thing—
It wasn’t really my father’s murders. It was Tigger, my kitten, her name was Tigger. I didn’t give Tigger her pills.
And so she died. I put her in my closet, I thought she would dry up and fade away. But of course she stank. So what would you do? If you were nine years old.
You’d cry. You’d lie, you’d tell them that Tigger got better and ran away. You’d stop up your nose from the stink. You’d take a salad fork and stab her so she’d appear to have been killed by a rat with a salad fork.
It was an education. More vivid than statistics of many millions dead.
Marty— Chuck. Yes. Chuck.
I would like to ask you to move your family to this house. There are working bathrooms, kitchens, plenty of light, wouldn’t it solve your problems? You need time with your family, and I am very very sorry about that, I know I make demands that are absolutely insane. And I’m calling you Marty. That’s insane.
I need the energy of young people in this house. We build ballrooms where people don’t dance, dining rooms where no one eats, nurseries without babies, and bedrooms—
You have a wife, a beautiful child, you have needs, your family needs you, and there must be energy in this house, where the energy doesn’t die every day at sunset and the soldiers die in these wars that go on and on and on—
I think that’s what you should do.
CHUCK: Dee, I don’t want to fight. If I had a choice I would spend every damn minute with you and Joey. But it’s not like I can go someplace and get a job that pays this well. She’s paying three times what I’d make.
DEE: He cries when you pick him up.
CHUCK: Once.
DEE: So Joey’s a year and a half old. When’s he going to have a little sister? Did we talk about that?
CHUCK: We said that if—
DEE: Did we talk about that?
CHUCK: I don’t think the timing is good.
DEE: I’m talking about having a baby.
CHUCK: I’m talking about reality.
DEE: You go ahead and keep that job and see how long you keep me.
TOUR GUIDE: There are days we have only the stragglers. Not easy. They’re embarrassed for me and for themselves. But I fill the hour, make it interesting. For example, the house is made famous in part by its many tourists. Gives them a sense of self-worth, which is very popular now.
And a sense of mystery. We don’t find much mystery under fluorescent light, but there is a longing. You read about sacred groves.
It’s up and down. A woman asks where the horses drank. “They had horses, didn’t they? It’s historical.” Outdoors, I suppose. They had people to care for the horses. It’s not necessary to live your life in every detail. You live the highlights.
I did have a tourist who said that his wife had died at Mt. Rushmore. I said, “Really?” thinking this would be an interesting story. But that’s all he said.
It’s one day at a time. Once I start the tour, it always times out the same, and I have coffee before the next tour, and a good pension plan. So there’s no earthly reason why I should have the urge to come in some night and shit on the rug.
CHUCK: Yes, ma’am. So here’s the report on last week. Some photos of the South Complex. Plans for the extension. Based on your plans.
SOPHIA: These are my plans?
CHUCK: Based on your plans. These are faithful to the spirit of your plans.
SOPHIA: There are no doors to this room.
CHUCK: That appears to be true.