Chapter Two

February 10, 2010

“No, sir, I can’t offer you the room for that price.”

Mr. Gould leaned against the counter with both hands, staring past his eyebrows at me. His eyes were barely visible below the wide brim of his hat and his down-turned face. He glared at me, GLARED, like I told him and the Mrs. to kindly fuck off. I hadn’t.

“Look, son, I’ve been coming here for 22 years, and I always stay for $46 a night,” he said slowly, emphasizing when he said “I.” “I’ve personally had dinner with Jeff Van Diver every year for 15 years. We’re good friends. I was here when Hurricane Monica destroyed the first and second levels, and I was here when they rebuilt them.”

As he spoke, I stood there in silence, my eyes meeting his. When I looked down at his mouth, I could see him over-pronounce each syllable loud and slow like I had trouble understanding him. It was the way ignorant people talk to someone who doesn’t speak English. It made him sound like an old robot in a way, or like his voice was coming from a computer. It would have been funny if he weren’t talking to me.

He removed his hands from the counter and stood straight up. Too straight. His once slumped shoulders spread back, opening his chest and he tilted his chin higher as if his speech had elevated him past his role as a hotel guest to the heights of some sort of royalty. A prince, maybe a duke. Nothing more extravagant than the pleated khakis and polo shirt he was wearing would allow.

“Mr. Gould, I don’t know if any of that is true, but I do know that I don’t have the power to offer you a rate of less than $85 a night,” I said flatly. “If you have your AARP card, which I’m sure you do, I can give you a 15 percent discount, but that’s all.”

This was not the right thing to say.

Mrs. Gould, who had been standing idly by their too many pieces of luggage, walked over before Mr. Gould began jumping up and down.

“Excuse me?” she said, more of an accusation than a question. “And what is that supposed to mean?”

What that means is that you two are a couple of old cheapskates who spend all their time looking for ways to not spend all their money.

“I apologize, ma’am. I meant nothing by it other than an opportunity to give you a discount.”

She saw right through my half-assed veil. Mrs. Gould just looked at me, searching for something. Searching for a hint of a smirk or a nervous twitch, anything that would give me away. She stood with her arms folded into one another on the counter. Her gold bracelet glimmered in the spotlight over the counter, drawing attention away from her perfect French manicure. Her hair had lost its color but not its place as it was trimmed up past her ears, that shorter haircut older women often get so it doesn’t look so thin and ratty. Sort of. She was well presented, even regal, but it was as real as her press-on nails.

Mr. Gould was now pacing back and forth across the lobby carpet. I could see his arms flailing like an orchestra conductor, probably screaming at me in sign language. I kept my posture as Mrs. Gould kept her stare. She was challenging me, measuring my character while I stood behind my computer. Then she looked past me, somewhere over my right shoulder. I stayed silent.

“Oh good, maybe THIS guy knows what he’s doing,” she said with both her mouth and her hands, her bracelet and skin flailing about as she moved her arms.

THIS guy was one of my oldest friends, Andrew.

“How can I help you?” Andrew asked blankly.

Andrew approached the counter with eyes wide, both hands in his pockets. His posture was relaxed as it always seemed to be, shoulders back but not stiff. He looked at Mrs. Gould directly in the eyes with sincerity as he stood next to me.

“My husband and I have been trying to check in at our regular rate, but HE said that wasn’t possible.”


“OK, ma’am, and what is your regular rate?”

“$46 a night for 7 nights.”

“Alright, I see. We don’t usually allow rates below $85 without a discount like AARP or…”

She cut him off.

“My husband just spent the last 10 minutes explaining to the other guy that we’ve been coming here for years, and we know Jeff Van Diver. I don’t want to have to tell you the same story. I just want to…”

He returned the favor.

“I apologize, ma’am. I’d be happy to fix the error and adjust your rate right now. James, would you make two keys for Mr. and Mrs. Gould,” he said, nodding his head towards the keymaker.

I just nodded and kept my mouth shut. I could feel the heat of her stare blazing down the back of my neck while I made her keys, it made my ears burn. Andrew was clicking and typing away, his eyes on the computer. Mr. Gould had finished his tantrum and returned to his wife’s side with his head held high once again, now that Andrew had returned his dignity.

“There you are, ma’am,” Andrew said, handing the keys to Mrs. Gould. “I apologize for the inconvenience. Your rate is now $46 for the entirety of your stay and if there is anything else I can do for you, please don’t hesitate to call me.”

“Thank you,” she squinted at his nametag, “Andrew.”

Mr. Gould said nothing. Without looking at us, he walked around the corner and returned pushing an empty luggage cart. The Mrs. stood by fumbling in her purse while he piled their many bags on the cart. When he was done, he walked over to the counter and looked me from under the brim of his hat once more.

“I’ll have you know I plan on telling Jeff about this incident,” he said with a low tone. His eyes whipped over to Andrew and back to me. I knew his tone was meant to be threatening, but it came out like a child who had been humiliated and had nothing to counter with but telling on me. He turned and pushed the luggage cart toward the elevator.

When the doors had closed behind him, Andrew turned to me and asked, “What the hell was that all about?”



January 8, 2010

At 2 in the afternoon, lunch places are always filled the most random groups of people. Not people who would ever intentionally gather together, but more of the group you might come across at the DMV, collectively eying the clock and grumbling how there’s 34 more numbers until theirs is called.

These people aren’t angry, though. Why would they be? A full salad bar and 8 different soups to choose from. Who could be angry with that?

“It’s funny, I used to work here in high school and there are a lot of the same people still working here. That lady that rang us up at the cash register… she is crazy. Like, one day she tried to get me to watch her cast a Wicken spell.”

For a girl so young, Sarah has so many life stories. Interesting stories. She once told me about visiting Scotland to open a new restaurant for the company she was working for. Why they need a rib joint in Scotland is beyond me. I guess the Scots need all-you-can-eat ribs on Monday, too.

“So, wait, because she has a different religion than you that makes her crazy?”

“Because she thinks she can cast spells, THAT makes her crazy.”

Comparing religions is never uninteresting.

“What’s the difference between her reading a sentence or two out loud and thinking that will cast a spell and you asking to an invisible man in the sky for help?”

“…because mine works.”

I’m wondering if there is a difference between faith and self-deception. Not that it would matter.

“Well, I guess it’s the same as any two different opinions. I mean, she could believe the Earth was flat, and you could believe the Earth is round. While these are two equally valid opinions, the fact of the matter is that one of you is right, and the other isn’t.”

It’s a good thing religions don’t need evidence.

“You talk yourself out of everything.”

“I know. Ah, what are you gonna do?”

The soup bar is looking at me again. I just hope I don’t run into another senior citizen asking for soup without meat, tomatoes, potatoes or anything else that resembles whole food in it. This isn’t a broth bar, Ms. I couldn’t tell if the Spanish lady wiping up ladle dribbles didn’t speak well-enough English to help the old woman, or if the old woman’s question was too annoying for her to deal with. Tough call.