I’ve found over the years that couples have a repertoire of stories they delight in sharing at cocktail parties. First there are the tales they tell in tandem, each finishing the other’s sentence and expressing false chagrin, like it’s the first time they’ve recounted this story since the incident occurred even though it is told every time they are surrounded by brie and dishes with garnish. Then there are the tales each tells about the other. Onlookers swivel their heads, as if watching dueling banjos, as Richard interjects non-essential asides, like “I want to point out that I immediately checked into a rehab center after I walked into that reception wearing only my loafers,” and Jane reassures the party, “we only see a therapist once a week now to discuss our struggles in the bedroom.”
And then there are the stories one partner demands the other tell about himself. It’s an epic so priceless, so telling, that it must be told. Greg has learned that I require the telling of his cross-country trip with his brother at all events. Whenever we are at a stale party, I threaten, “If your people want to talk about tax returns all night, I will share all the evidence that suggests Courtney Love killed Kurt Cobain.” Like a puppet whose strings have been pulled, he immediately begins the story of his expedition…
Greg and his brother, Luke, wanted to take the trip of a lifetime during the summer months following college. So they decided to drive across the country and then drive back. All these two desired was open road, a high-mileage truck, and a landfill of Coors Lite cans. They set out from Maine with Los Angeles as the destination point a couple of weeks later. There was no formal itinerary, no schedule for miles logged, no mandatory stops at National Parks. Had I known these two then and had I been invited on the trip, I surely would have spoiled its Steinbeck mood by assigning driving shifts and routing the entire trek around public restrooms with low risk for Hepatitis. Greg and Luke, however, were footloose, wanting only to see tall mountains, clear rushing rivers and exotic dancers without C-section scars.
They’d set out on a particularly long belt of roadway on the return leg of their trip. Each night along the way, they’d slept outside in a persistent drizzle with cut-rate camping gear. It had been too long since they’d slept in a bed or had a shower. They decided, upon striking Wyoming, that they would check into a modest roadside motel for the night. They followed mileage markers to the town of Gillette, where signs would lead them to a Motel 6. They traveled along a desolate and dark road, unlit by highway lamps, until they saw the dim lights of the motel in the distance. Greg, the legal mastermind, advised that the truck should be parked far off the lobby so that the check-in attendant would not be wise to the fact that there were two guests despite their intention to pay only for a single guest room.
Greg entered the lobby of the motel to pay for the room. The attendant was an awkward, shifty-eyed male with greasy black hair. When he spoke, Greg was startled by the peculiar tenor of his voice. It was more like a whisper. He handed him the room key and indicated the way to his second floor room via the elevator in the lobby. Greg nodded anxiously as he realized his plan to keep Luke’s status as a stowaway was foiled by the elevator. He scurried out the door to collect his bags and his illicit companion from the truck. The two brothers entered the lobby and crossed the floor with a speedy gait, heads down, cooler of beer rolling quietly behind them.
They arrive to their room and breathe a sigh of relief as the door closes. They are selecting what to watch from the available channels on the small television when the phone on the bedside table rings suddenly and shrilly. Greg and Luke stare at each other with expressions of confusion. Greg reaches slowly for the phone and brings it to his ear.
“Hello, sir. I’m just curious if your…friend…is going to be staying the night?”
The skin on the back of Greg’s neck prickles at the creepiness of the voice on the line. He considers his response before deciding the truth is his best course. He explains the interloper is his brother and that they’ve been traveling on a shoestring budget, which is the reason he paid only for one guest.
There is silence for an unnaturally long period.
“Oh, he’s your brother? Well, that’s okay then.”
Greg exhales and is about to offer more repentance before he is cut off.
“There’s just one thing,” the voice hissed. “I don’t like being lied to.”
Greg hangs up the phone, eyes wide. In unison the two boys rise to their feet and drag the dresser in front of the door.
After a night of fitful sleep, they wake early and decide to get on the road quickly. As they turn out of the motel parking lot, Greg brakes suddenly in response to what he sees across the street: The Motel 6.
The boys turns slowly to stare through the rear window at the motel they’d believed was the Motel 6. The sign, which had been obscured by darkness at night, read The American Motel and there were no other cars in the lot.
I spit red wine on to imported Persian rugs every time I hear him tell this story. It has all the elements a raconteur loves – camaraderie, travel, horror, homophobic and homicidal motel employees. It’s the best way to get my otherwise quiet husband to open up in a crowd. Unless someone wants to talk about who’s sleeping with the nanny, and then I say, “Honey, no one cares about Wyoming. Eat some more stuffed mushrooms and talk to Richard about TurboTax.”
Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog I’m Gonna Kill Him. Follow her misadventures at imgonnakillhim.bangordailynews.com and on Twitter @gonnakillhim.