Thursday, January 21, 2010

What Is It About Hotels? A Man Carrying His Own Coffin and Jr. Walker

Overheard at the second floor elevators in a hall full of sun and lumps of soiled linen at the Sheraton Hotel in Reston, Virginia.

What is it about hotels?

Music is welling up the atrium from the airy lobby, and the Pips and I are taking the Midnight Train to Georgia. We're all in the little ice-machine nook in my socks, just run down the hall quick with my little plastic ice-bucket, singing the way you do in your socks in a hotel in the morning: "All aboard all aboard the mid-night train...I've got to go! I've got to go!" I pull the train whistle, and the Pips "Woo Woo!" and we are all singing when...

Me: There are two people just outside the nook. They're waiting for the elevator. I can see them through a thicket of potted plastic bamboo in which someone had dropped his gum. Just by the way they're standing it's clear there is something happening between these two, and before I know it -it must be something about hotels - I am absolutely skulking in the bamboo, and listening with my ice-bucket empty and my mouth open.

She: a bulging satchel with a broken zipper over one nicely shaped shoulder. Over the other, an unfastened purse spouting wallet and what looks like several of those MacIntosh apples you get from the bowl on the front-desk. Two boxes of shoes and several paperbacks are mashed, but struggling to get loose, against the sagging V-neck of a too-short dress. Her hair, a youthful tumble, contradicts her wattled neck.

He: a slim suit-bag draping an elegant sleeve; jeans a precise business-casual fade, breaking perfectly at the instep of a well-shod foot. His neck is nice.

Down in the lobby, I can hear the Pips noodle, "My. World. Is his. World. His and his alone..." and I'm watching her because she's talking and it's pretty animated - she's talking with her whole arm and all her bags are shifting and heaving like ballast in what would be a very heavy sea. He's not saying anything at all, but looking at him says a lot. As smooth as he is, he is crumpled. Like crumpling. Like in the act of crumple. Standing there in front of her, while I'm watching him, he looks like he's sort of caving in - as if he's being belly-punched in slow-motion.

So, there I am watching these two through the plastic bamboo and the gum, and Ol' Worldly Me is summing up the scene for the Pips saying, "Yes...the arm-waving, the slow-motion belly-punching, the metaphorical luggage, neck wattle...Unmistakable. It is, I'm afraid, the classic: two people, signs of a struggle, complete mess," All the Pips shrug and nod in unison, and we're all turning around smug and jaded for ice, when She says this:

She:"...All I wanted was to tell you about fishless ponds. That's all. They are amazing! Wonderful! Full of Wonder! A world redefined! I wanted to tell you. I want to tell you. But now you look like a man carrying his own coffin."

Me: "Fishless ponds?...'You look like a man carrying his own coffin...'?
And then..."That's a nice simile....I hope to god I never have to use it."

This fierce proclamation is so strange - fishless ponds? It was like an incantation - Looking back, I think those words - the whole: "fishless ponds and full of wonder, silent man and ten feet under" owlet-wing kind of vibe all doused in their intensity, I think it was a spell - a spell that set in motion the cascade of peculiar and beautiful events that happened next.

So, I look out and she has now made a "ta-da" move - a little stomp with her big hands down low, her arms straight, juggling shoe boxes, and her chest open to him. One of the apples - a beautiful, glossy red one like a jewel - falls out of her purse with a bonk, and rolls against a heap of soggy towels under a bench.

But he will not say anything, and her outstretched hands are getting tired. She shakes them down hard to make him look, but he won't lift his head. God! Even I'm exasperated! and the silence of every thing unsaid between these two is seeming to drown them - and me too and my bamboo - all of us. This silence is like clear green syrup pouring down the hall, washing in around our knees and our bellies and gulping up our heads filling up the whole second floor of the Reston Sheraton filling up our ears and our noses, down the hall, the maids toss armloads of sheets into the halls with muffled whumps,laughing in Spanish sounds submerged.

But the most underwater-y eerie-y thing is that something must have gone wrong with the sound system, because, there's no music - no sound - at all. I'm sure Gladys and the Pips are in Georgia by now and in the hall, She and all her messy bags and her apples, and He and his stupid shoes are bobbing horribly drowning in the sun-filled syrup, upside down with the maids and the bamboo and the laundry and I'm thinking this will kill us, when suddenly, from out of nowhere, out of everywhere, from out of the walls, there is this click. This big electric crackling click, and the music wells up from below. It's Jr. Walker and the All-Stars! They're soaring up the atrium swinging gorgeous saxophones. They've overheard the whole thing and have come soaring up.

And it's loud. Something has definitely gone wrong with the volume, or maybe the doorman in his giant coat and brass buttons likes this song, and has turned it up because the music and words rise up from the lobby. Like a big, golden, buttered curl of sax and sun. It is pretty unignorable.

Jr. pleads to us: "Oh I tried I tried I tried...Every way I could....To make you see how much I love you. I thought you understood." It's really loud. Drowned as they are, those two blink the syrup from their eyes. Maybe it's a message. Jr. Walker is throwing us a line.

The All-Stars are demanding, "You gotta make me see. What does it take to win your love for me?..." Da! Da da da da da da! cries the sax, and in front of the elevator, at that moment, he lifts his eyes to hers and she sees him. As many times as she has gazed on him, it has taken Jr. Walker and the All-Stars to show him to her. She sees him. And. He. Is. Miserable. She stands there appalled and hangs her head.

As the music fills up the Reston Sheraton swirling around all three of us and maids and the doorman, we all think: "Yes. You gotta make me see. What does it take?"

Then"Ding!" The elevator arrives, and The Spinners spill out in a big clanking jumble and let us all know that It's a Shame. Which it sure is.

He steps in. I can see right in the elevator and he doesn't even turn around. It's just his long, graceful back, and crumpled suit-bag, and smooth, bent head, when the door slides shut, leaving her with too much luggage standing there in cheap shoes and a pile of fruit muttering, "I didn't understand. I truly did not see. But the ponds. The fishless ponds. That's all I have ever wanted to talk about... Why didn't you say? Why didn't you let me know?"

I lean against the ice-machine, clutching my bucket, singing softly. "Yes, I tried and tried and tried...every way I cooould," and when I peer out through my bamboo, she's gone, and I dunk my bucket in the box and scoop up the ice and in my socks scamper, as you do down a hotel hall, back to my room to find out everything I can about similes, saxophones, fishless ponds, and love.

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