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Chapter 4 - Sex, Drugs, and Garfunkle

December, 1986

The elevator doors open, and I push my cart out into the hallway. Room 425.  I take a right. The room service trays, with their stainless steel covers, clatter as I walk. The hall seems to stretch itself in front of me as I move over the brightly-colored carpet. I can feel my heart beating. In my temples. In my chest. In my wrists.

This is not going to go well.

My Walkman is clipped to my belt. Don Henley blasts in my ears. Johnny Can't Read. Long Way Home. Dirty Laundry. One of my favorite parts of the job is when I get to vacuum a meeting room. The vacuum drowns out my voice as I sing along. At least I hope it drowns out my voice.

I take a drink of my coffee as I continue down the hall. I have no idea if this is good coffee or bad coffee. I hate coffee. So it doesn't really matter. But the coffee is free. And I work pretty late.

I see room 425 just ahead, and I stop the cart to slow my heartbeat. I almost turn it around. Get someone else. I take some deep breaths. I may be losing some of the feeling in my fingers. I've delivered countless trays before, but this is not your average room service call.

Room 425 is a Dancer Room.


I've only heard about Dancer Rooms so far. I've never experienced one. The other bellmen always seem to get to them first when the room service line rings.

I don't believe the stories about the Dancer Rooms, but I want to.

I really want to.

The dancers come to town a couple times a month and they stay at our hotel. They dance at the strip club down town. I'd always assumed all the dancers were local, but apparently they're not. They come here from other places. Kansas City, maybe. No one really knows.

I'm not altogether inexperienced with women, I remind myself. I am a college senior, after all. I had a girlfriend, once.

No, wait. Twice.

Jesus Christ, I should have let someone else take this one.


I drink more coffee. Double check the order. Utensils. Condiments. Drinks. I pull the headphones from my sweaty head.


I scrub my face with the hand towel I keep on my cart for such occasions. I check my hair in the stainless steel. I try to dry the sweat as close to the hairline as possible without actually messing up the hair. I take a deep breath and continue forward. I'm having trouble breathing. I may have had too much coffee.

I knock on the door.

"Room service!"

It's going well, I think.


My heart literally bounces off the roof of my mouth.

I have to swallow to keep it down.


Phil is the desk clerk tonight. He gave me this order. He felt I was ready.

Phil's the first person I've met who's openly gay. He and two other desk clerks. Apparently this is not unusual in the hotel industry, though it's unprecedented for me. I come from a very small town.
Not long ago, Dorothy, the elderly hostess at the hotel restaurant stopped me.



"Do you have a girlfriend?"


"Do you want a girlfriend?"


"OK. Good."

I wait. Is she setting me up? Does she have a nice granddaughter or niece?


"Um. Why?" I ask.

She sighs. "It's just nice to hear that someone around here does, honey."




As I walk into the office and punch in for my shift, Phil is checking in a flight crew on layover from the nearby airport. Small-talking one of them as he completes the paperwork.

"Soooo... Rick. I heard somewhere that 90 percent of male flight attendants are actually gay."

Polite laugh. "Yeah. I suppose that could be."

"Mm-hm... Soooooo... are you faithfully holding up your part of the 10 percent?"

"Ummm... Yeah. I'm straight."

"Hmmmm... Rooms 310-314, Rick. Elevator's right that way."

"Thank you."

"Thank YOU." He watches as they disappear around the corner.

"Nice technique."

"Oh, hi Brad! I didn't see you there."


"You look nice tonight."


"You know... Chad and I were talking last night, and we both agreed that it's just a shame you're straight."

"Huh. Yeah." Pause. "Sorry."

He hands me a slip of paper. "You've got an airport pick-up, hon. Molly Hatchet's in town."



It's my first celebrity pick-up, though I can't really make myself think of them as celebrities. I know I've heard at least one of their songs, but I can't think of any as I drive to the terminal.

There are only two of them when I get there. One doesn't stop smiling and babbling from the moment he lays eyes on me. The other is polite, but quiet. The babbler gets in the front seat.

"HEY, HOW YA DOIN', MAN..." is all I get, though he's apparently telling me much more. I'm pretty sure his name is in there somewhere, so I say it's nice to meet him. He laughs like I've just delivered a Carson monologue.

He's tuning his way through the radio dial with one hand. With the other he taps out bits of rhythms as they pass us by. He taps anything within reach.

"Are you the drummer?" I ask. Polite conversation makes better tips with the talkers.

Howling laughter, "MAN, I'M NOT IN THE BAND!"


His mouth keeps moving. Faster, if that's possible. I hear the words "BEST BUD" at some point, and there's lots of motioning toward the back seat. I nod politely until I finally realize he's been repeating the same words over and over with a question mark at the end.

"I'm sorry, what?"




"Oh. Hi Danny."


"Oh. No. I don't think so. Is he from here?"


"LEAD SINGER OF MOLLY HATCHET, MAN!!!" Motioning wildly toward the back seat.

"Oh." I look into the rear view. "Sorry." Danny Joe shakes his head politely.

His head shake says, "It's cool."

"BEST BUD, MAN!" Returning to the radio dial. He does his best rendition of "Flirtin' With Disaster" as he turns the knob.

So that's the song.

Danny Joe looks like he feels very sorry for me.


The babbler cranks up the volume of the tinny hotel-station-wagon radio and starts singing along loudly with "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

I check on Danny in the rear-view mirror. If he could take my place, he would. He leans his head against the window. The babbler sings a little more, then laughs uproariously.


I think maybe he's being ironic, but then I wonder if he's capable of that.

"HEY. HEY. HEY. HEY. HEY, MAN. HEY." The loudest whisper I've ever heard. He leans into me.

"Um. Yeah?"




"Oh. Ha. Um. Uh. No, man. I'm afraid of heights."

Hysterical laughter.

"HEY. NO. NO. HEY. HEY. NO. HEY." He leans closer. "YOU LIKE COCAINE?"

I laugh politely. "Uh, no. You know. I'd never be able to afford that stuff."


I look at Danny. His eyes are closed. He's got nothing.

"Um." Polite laugh. "Uh. No. Thanks. No."

We pull into the lot and drive past the restaurant entrance.

"AWESOME, MAN! PRIME RIB SPECIAL!" Outrageous laughter.


I unload their luggage. They take their own bags before I can load them on a cart.


"Oh. Yeah. I would. But. You know. I'll be working."


"AWESOME, MAN." He hands me a one dollar bill and smacks me on the back as he goes in.

I look at Danny. He motions me over.

"Thanks, man."

He hands me a $100 bill and walks with his bags into the lobby before I can even look at it.


"So, that went well," I think, as I sweat outside the door of room 425. "Maybe this will too."


I swallow again.

The door opens.

She has dark hair. She's small. She's younger than I expected. She's wearing only panties and some sort of small, lacy top. I focus on her belly button, then quickly to the patch of carpet visible behind her.

"Uh..." Trying not to sweat on the tray. 

"Thank God!"

She grabs the tray from my hands and sets it on the bed. I hold out the ticket and a pen. The ticket is splotched where my face has melted onto it. She signs it quickly and hands it back.

"Thanks!" And the door is closed.

I stand there a moment. Close my eyes. Try to breathe. 



I see a flash of light through my eyelids. Some part of me hopes it's a stroke.

I ignore it.

But suddenly, inexplicably, my mouth is flooded with the familiar taste of caramel. And Mulberries. And chocolate Nehi.


Chapter 5 - The Thing

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