I was sitting in the lobby of a nondescript hotel, waiting. The carpet was too loud. The music was too soft. Hotel lobbies often feel lonely, even when they are filled with people.

The story, in the script that I am writing, which I was thinking about to distract myself while I waited in the lobby, takes place in a warehouse at night.

I have spent most of my time writing novels, a form which allows length and depth. How do I give a character a captivating back story, depth, in just a few lines?

As I stared at the carpet in the lobby, a song by Jim Croce came over the speaker.

Did you know that hospitality carpeting is a whole separate category? I suppose buying carpets in such volume require different levels of service. I’ve since become interested in the choice of patterns presented in the hospitality carpeting catalogs. It’s like there are rules, a genre, that the patterns of hospitality carpeting adhere too.

Here’s a link to ‘Operator‘ by Jim Croce. If you don’t have 3:47 minutes to listen to the whole song, just catch the first 0:44 seconds. Croce sets up the main character, his former lover and best old ex-friend Ray in a few lines. A few seconds. Not only are the characters defined, he also shows the tension between them and the whole trail full of tears.

The carpet choices for rooms tend to have smaller and tighter patterns. The choices for lobbies tend to have larger and splashy patterns.

A story can be set up in a line. Maybe two.

‘Walk in the Park’, by Signature Hospitality Carpets, is similar to the carpet in the lobby where I sat, waiting.

Sometimes I think about writing a novel that tells the story behind a song. The best songs contain as much story as a novel. They trace the important parts to show you the shape, like ‘Reno‘ by Bruce Springsteen or ‘Your Ex-lover is Dead‘ by the Stars.

I listened to ‘Operator’ and I looked around the lobby again. I had a feeling I could sum up in a line. Maybe two.

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CLAIRE CAMERON's first novel, The Line Painter, was published in 2007 by HarperCollins Canada. Her work has recently appeared in The New York Times, The Globe and Mail and on The Rumpus. You can find her at www.claire-cameron.com.

11 responses to “Jim Croce Stares at Hospitality Carpeting in Warehouses at Night”

  1. Greg Olear says:

    The economy of language in a good story-song is something else. Somewhere in the files I have a half-written post extolling the virtues of “Lucille,” which is not, in fact, about Lucille, but about the narrator, a womanizing barfly, who is so moved by the appearance of Lucille’s estranged husband in the Toledo bar that he cannot in good conscience consummate the one-night stand, even though he’s plied her with drinks and rented a hotel room. The barfly is moved. Gets me every time.

    Welcome aboard!

  2. Ruby, don’t take your love to town.

    • Greg Olear says:

      That’s also a great one, by the same songwriting team. I love the part where the instruments rest and there’s just that shuffle rhythm. Love love love it.

  3. J.E. Fishman says:

    Nice. “The carpet was too loud. The music was too soft.” There’s nice economy in that, too.

    I just had to cut a third from a story I’m submitting this week to a contest, because I’d misremembered the rules and gone way over the limit. Of course, as it usually goes with cutting, it made the story better.

    The great song writers do indeed create efficient narratives. Croce’s “my best old ex-friend Ray,” tells you as much as an entire chapter in a novel might. Springsteen, I agree, is great at this, too. He writes: “The screen door slams. Mary’s dress waves. Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays.” Maybe not a whole story in those lines, but a setting that tells as much as pages and pages of prose.

    • I love those lyrics.

      Now you’ve mentioned it, Bruce uses a lot of ‘M’ names. Your example is Thunder Road, I think. Then Maria’s Bed, Mary’s Place, and didn’t Mary get pregnant in The River?

  4. Joe Daly says:

    What a nice vignette. You’re so right about the craftsmanship involved in telling a story in a song. I’ve always thought that about Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” He unveils a long narrative, but each sentence showcases a paucity of language, such that no word seems wasted, yet all convey tremendous images.

    Cool piece, indeed.

  5. Simon Smithson says:

    I did not know that hospitality carpeting was a separate industry.

    Sometimes people just get it right, you know? They just nail it in a single expression, a single line, and everything just clicks into place.

    Those kind of writers would clean up on online dating sites.

    Welcome to TNB!

  6. dwoz says:

    There’s a very interesting fact about industrial hospitality carpet:

    It has a very specific, and wonderfully scientific design goal. The design attempts to achieve a very high number for the “mean time between cleaning” specification. The MTBC of a carpet is the the average amount of time it can go before it really just has to be cleaned, NOW.

    Staffing and janitorial expense being the number one reason that hospitality carpet purchasers suffer from ED and insomnia, it is natural and obvious that the invisible hand of the market moves them to prefer designs with a very high MTBC.

    The very highest achieved MTBC on record for a carpet, is a design that emulates vomit. There’s a carpet loom in the Charlotte, VA area that has been weaving vomit carpet for 24 years straight, and it cannot keep up with the orders.

    ferreting out genius, one lobby at a time. Wonderful little piece, Claire, It hit hard home like a lawn dart lofted with malice. Thank you.

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