Anecdote of the Tankard

Terzameron Day 15
April 4, 2020

Tim Martin



This follows my last “story”—”how I started working here,” and gets to “why I stayed.” I graduated from college and, the next day, started working at Shrubsole. My college roommate and I had rented a two-bedroom apartment on Riverside Drive. In those days you could afford that sort of thing, even on $18,000 a year. Of course I was eating noodles or rice every night. Things went fine for about a year, but the work was dismal: our octogenarian porter slept in the back all day, so my job at this elegant emporium was to do his job—cleaning and deliveries. I was trying to find another job.


I had at some point introduced my roommate to a female friend of mine, and one day I returned home to find the apartment half empty, his room bare, and a note telling me that he was moving in with her, so, I’d be on the hook for all the rent, and, also, the movers had accidentally packed my large, fragile, and (to me) priceless stereo system. He would let me know a good time that I could come get it.


I couldn’t afford the place alone, so I called my landlord. He lived somewhere up near Woodstock, and billed himself, on his letter-head and his answering machine, as “Howard of Tall Pines”—that being the name of his country seat. I’ll never forget the sound of his voice on that machine: “You have reached Howard of Tall Pines (tawl poins), kindly leave a message! He will return your caul!” When he did, his eccentric sense of noblesse oblige was a godsend. Don’t worry about it, he told me, with copious animadversions (shifty! creep!) on my roommate. I could just pay half and do my best to find another place soon, but no rush! Needless to say, I was half-packed by the time we were off the phone, desperate to do right by this—in deed if not quite in title—noble man. I was out by the end of the month, for I shamelessly convinced my stepfather, as a stop-gap, to let me stay at his place.


It was summer, and Eric was only coming in one night a week, so I lived alone, mostly, in his slightly twee apartment, drinking enormous amounts of tea, reading late into the night, and staring around the place from a memorably comfortable chair. I stared at all his little odds and ends: silver, porcelain, brass, needlework, furniture, glass, but night after night, sometimes for a minute, and sometimes for what must have been an hour, I stared at a great big silver tankard. I stared at it—gazed? zoned-out? with the tankard as a focal point?—whatever: I looked at it for so long that I began to love it, and to feel its qualities and its beauty—qualities I couldn’t name, beauty I couldn’t describe. I did not have a vocabulary, or didn’t trust my vocabulary, to do it justice, but I loved its solidity; I loved that it was old; I loved that it was big, capacious; I loved that it had an elegant swirl to the handle.


On one of those summer nights Eric came in to the city and we went to dinner. I told him that this object had become a sort of passion of mine; that I loved looking at it, but couldn’t explain why. Back at the apartment, we looked at it together, and he listened as I tried to explain my infatuation. The next day, before he left back to the country, we had lunch. He told me he wanted me to come with him on his next trip to London, and that he was giving me a raise.

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