Don’t go looking for Tanokwans today, though. There’s only one left in the year 2016, and he’s out in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, holed up on the second floor of a Howard Johnson. There each day is spent, reading and critiquing every word Henry James ever wrote—even a pile of the author’s yellowed, crumpled notes requesting antacids.
People staying at the Eau Claire Howard Johnson are almost always on vacation, on their way to take video of the Smokey Mountains, review the Everglades, or pose next to a water tower shaped like bottle of relish in Sheboygan. With such great amounts of time on their hands, travelers go out of their way to pass by Room 206.
Regular guest pilgrimages to the second floor, with a right turn at the malfunctioning ice machine, was largely the work of the hotel’s night manager. The night manager, Eddie Holdover, also happened to own the largest coin collection in the Midwest. Eddie Holdover loved rare things.
“Do you know what we have here?” he asked another tired, sunburned couple, this one just arrived straight from Bismarck, North Dakota. He asked them to guess.
“Is this a fun way to tell us this place has roaches?”
“I wouldn’t have any idea about something like that,” replied Eddie Holdover. He was only half listening, because not once had a guest ever guessed correctly. He was long past being disappointed by this, and also knew from experience he could only ask once.
“The very last Tanokwan is living in this establishment—drop by 206, but I can’t promise you anything. And oh, there’s complimentary coffee with your stay, too.”
And soon—after declining to see the only 1841 Jefferson half-penny still in existence— with their ears to the door of 206 the Fargo travelers could hear a voice coming from inside. A lengthy passage from The Golden Bowl was being recited. Neither the middle-aged owner of a factory that made discount party hats nor his wife, a retired teeth model, had ever heard of Henry James or his Golden Bowl. They did not know or learn anything about the occupant of 206 either, such as the name of this last Tanokwan on earth, which was Johnny Nacullum. They just tisked, amazed at the waste of it all. They tisked and the next day were off to Sheboygan, because they themselves have never been the last of anything.