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Saturday, January 11, 2014

The hole story. By John von Daler

                 There was once a little café on a broad Parisian street in Copenhagen. The café looked more like a home than a place of business. You could sit pleasantly either at mahogany tables covered with white damask clothes or in antique sofas with wooden arms and antimacassars.

                In the glass counter by the entrance, you could count seven freshly baked cakes, fifteen ice-creams, and ten sorbets. Behind the counter, machines for making coffee pumped and puffed.
                Two pretty, dark-haired women steered the café. Nothing was left to chance: the cakes were always fresh, the tablecloths were clean and ironed, the floors were swept and washed.
                But there was one thing the lovely ladies could not command from behind their counter. That was the hole in the floor.
                No one had really seen it at all when they first started the café. They put a table right on top of the trapdoor above the hole and none of the customers noticed.
                But one day the darkest of the two ladies, a former ballet dancer now turned café owner, in a moment of regrettable weakness told some customer about the hole. This person, whose curiosity, for the purposes of our story, will be his only characteristic, asked to see the door opened and closed.
           At this time the two ladies were trying to build up their clientele, and if revealing a door could create some goodwill, then they wanted to do it. So they moved the table covering the hole and the owner hopped down into it and began to pop up and down, opening and closing the door.
                Now there is nothing quite as amusing as a closed door. The customers at their tables laughed and howled to see the lady hopping in and out. She for that matter, having been a brilliant performer in her time, could not resist a captive and enchanted audience. Soon she was screwing on one fantastic face after another. Each time the door closed some new monster, or damsel, or clown, or gypsy would come bubbling out of the floor from under the lid.
                One thing led to another, as they invariably do, and soon the hole became so popular among the café customers that the table had to be permanently moved to the attic. More and more people asked to see the hole and quite a few of them found their own uses for it.
                One tall woman who always wore a muumuu the size of a circus tent started asking to have her coffee served in the hole. She would put her long legs into the darkened space and spread out her dress so that one could only see her upper half coming out of the floor. The kind ladies gave her a tiny table and a demitasse and the tall lady sat perfectly still, experiencing for the first time what it was like to be short. 
                From her little chair, she would look up with the happiest eyes at each and every person who walked past. She relished most of all the moments when other customers, not having seen her there, would unwittingly brush into her. Then she would sigh and whisper, "Oh, excuse me, I guess you just couldn't see me! I should probably buy a light for my forehead!" And then she would laugh and laugh.
                Then there was the chubby man who lowered his ample buttocks into the hole with legs and stockinged feet sticking out of one side and torso and head out of the other. The ladies would cover his stomach with a little tray and he would sit there conversing with his feet, asking if they were going to eat this or that cake. Getting no answer he would invariably reach out and eat the pieces himself. To the casual observer, the hole now looked like a table around which two friendly,  animated shoes and a jovial full-moon man kept each other's company.
                After months of study, my personal favorite turned out to be a dancer from the pantomime theater in Tivoli. He had danced in that venerable establishment for a quarter of a century. The stage in Tivoli is built on a slant so the audience can see the dancing clearly. Any dancer who has spent more than a decade there can never again walk perpendicularly on our earth, but must always walk on a slant, with his feet a good fifty centimeters in front of his head, like a skier without the skis.
                This dancer would reserve the hole in advance. The good ladies would place a small, round table on a support in the middle and he would get down into the hole and stretch out, his legs on either side of the pole. It was marvelous to see how, when he placed his feet on one side at the bottom, his upper half would emerge perfectly from the other side at the top and would fit ever so well just at the edge of the table. He drank coffee with ice-cream, sucking it extravagantly through a straw.
                Of course, every good story must have a plausible ending, no matter how strange the preceding contents have been. Ours is no exception. One day these very three customers arrived at one and the same time and each demanded his chosen spot as usual. The troubled owner could not possibly decide which of them was to occupy the hole. The fat man leaned angrily over the irate slanted dancer and the tall lady poised over them both like a street light over a brawl. Then the poor owner descended sadly into the hole. She took a long, tearful look at her irate customers and closed the door permanently after her. Slam.
                Her partner stood watching the closed door for a while and then yelled, Now look what you've done! and ran crying out of the front door.

                I will not deny that I agreed with her in every way. Following her lead, I left at once. And I take back what I said before about closed doors being amusing: There is nothing quite as sad as a closed door. And I have not been back since.

No closed doors here!
Click below,
hop into the hole that appears,
and buy my book!

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