I stumbled across a neat, quirky piece of art a few weeks ago… it was a painting of a man standing in a cheesy motel room, wearing a trench coat and dark glasses. He looked like he was waiting for someone to arrive, to walk in and find him standing there…no context given, no story of any kind. (I can’t even tell you the name of the artist that did it, because I’d surely give them props, which is also the reason I didn’t post the picture itself.)
Anyway. This story popped up from that image, probably to shift my focus away from whatever-else-I-was-supposed-
Who. Are. You.
I had been traveling so much those past few weeks that where I was and where I was going had blended into a homogeneous blur. I had become an automaton, dutifully driving from one spot to the next, the trunk of my car filled with the tools of my trade: promotional supplies mostly, with the odd party or gag gift in tow.
It was pretty commonplace to find me on the road in the wee hours of the night, driving off to my next town. The following day would almost always start the same way: my eyes would snap open in some shitty little motel room, followed by my naked stumble into the dim bathroom to assess the damage of the night before, my eyes usually fire engine red and my face sporting some form of unexplained booze bruise–the countenance of a man I barely recognized stared back at me through the mirror every morning. Some mornings, I’m certain I caught him shaking his head.
After a quick shower and shave, I’d walk over to one of the two suitcases that followed wherever my travels took me. One was filled with virtually identical navy suits, crisp white shirts and dark blue ties, along with my toiletries and such. The other case held the variety of items I had on hand to sell that day, or that week, or that month. Seeing how I was on the road for weeks at a time, everything I needed came along with me, and would be replenished along the way at our field offices. This was a particularly long stretch, and my supplies were running low. But I would still have to get through two more towns before I reached the nearest one to get topped up.
I was beyond exhausted on this particular night. Maybe it was the stress of the last few weeks on the road finally catching up to me, or perhaps it was the four or five drinks too many I had at the little bar around the corner from the motel earlier that evening. But the entire trip had been a debacle: cancelled meetings, lost merchandise, car problems and outright disastrous demonstrations… the trip would shape up to be far from a pleasant memory, and I had good reason to drink it away if I could. To add to the mayhem, I had been nursing what can only be described as a never-ending hangover the entire time, unfazed by the handfuls of pain killers I had been chewing like candies. The copious amounts I had drank both in my entertaining duties and in my downtime didn’t help matters, surely. But the most troubling bit lay somewhere in the large voids in my memory that I couldn’t seem to fill with an acceptable amount of detail for the life of me–an occupational hazard of sorts, I suppose.
The room I walked into that night was identical to the hundreds of roadside motels I had called home in the past. The overall hue of the room was a familiar shade of beige, and the carpet an oddly-welcoming brown and green check. One wall was adorned with a subtle floral print, likely a couple of decades old; a single bed sat in the middle of the room, dressed in plain white linens while a nondescript picture of an uninspired landscape stood sentry over a plain wooden desk. Home. Nothing at all noteworthy here, with the glaring exception of the man in a black overcoat, wearing a black short-rimmed fedora pulled low across his brow and dark-rimmed glasses, smoking a cigarette while sitting with his legs crossed at the end of my bed. Even in my compromised state, this seemed out of place.
From the full ashtray sitting beside him on the bed, it appeared that he had been there for quite some time. He hurriedly stamped out his cigarette in the ashtray and placed it beside him on the floor.
“There you are! God, it’s good to see you. Come in, my boy. Sit down!”
“Oh! My apologies, the attendant must have given me the wrong room key.”
He smiled at me. “Nonsense. Now don’t just stand there, you must be exhausted after coming all that way. Come in and put your things down. We have much to discuss, but you really must get your bearings first.”
To say I was confused would be a massive understatement. If I had any sense at all, and perhaps if my head wasn’t throbbing like a band was playing in it, I would have stepped backwards, closed the door and run back to my car. But instead, as if under some form of spell, I came into the room and closed the door behind me, resting my suitcases on the floor against the wall. I really needed to sit down. He scooted over on the edge and gestured for me to sit, and I sat.
“Did you have a pleasant trip? Not too much adventure, I hope?”
I was baffled, and the expression on my face made that clear. And yet it didn’t seem to register at all on this fellow, his bright eyes fixed on mine behind his thick dark frames, his face twisted into a look of genuine fascination and smiling broadly from ear to ear.
“You’ve been waiting for me…?”
He looked perplexed. “Of course I have. I was starting to worry, if I’m being completely honest. You should have been here days ago.” He let out a nervous chuckle.
“Days ago…? I’m sorry,” I said, “but who are you, exactly? Are you with head office? I’m running low on supplies…”
He patted my shoulder just then, as a father would a young child. “We’ll get to that in a moment, I promise you. Right now, who you are is the key bit of business here. Or at the very least, who you think you are.”
To be continued… (you can skip ahead to Part Two here)