Tag Archives: family

The man who would be my father

“I don’t want people digging through my trash or my recycle,” he’d say, sitting back down into his chair to read the morning newspaper. “I pay money for the city to come pick those up. If they want to dig through the trash, let them go to the dump.”

“I don’t want people digging through my trash or my recycle,” he’d say, sitting back down into his chair after chasing them away to read the morning newspaper. “I pay money for the city to come pick those up. If they want to dig through the trash, let them go to the dump.”

by Stacey Warde

I learned the best example of manhood from a guy who was—I thought as a kid growing up—not very manly.

My stepfather, who died in 2008 from kidney cancer, didn’t have the physique of a man who would easily intimidate. He looked more like a New Jersey Italian teddy bear, a Mediterranean Buddha with belly to match, who loved to pass out cigars and pour a good stiff bourbon when the occasion called for it; he worked hard and celebrated life with gusto.

He had a lot of fight in him, fearless in his way, and he was pretty good about knowing when to use it, without resorting to fisticuffs. You always knew where you stood with him. He never minced words.

He took us on, some 50 years ago—mom, my brother and me— as if we were his own. He quickly laid down the law, setting boundaries and establishing family as the beginning and end of all things. He had been raised in the old ways of a New Jersey Italian where family and loyalty to one’s clan are as sacrosanct as the natural order of the universe.


My brother and I, abandoned by our biological father, were hurt, angry little boys when mom remarried and we weren’t quite ready for another man to claim us as his own.

Sure, we liked him—as a friend—but when mom told us she was going to marry him and that he was going to be our dad, we rebelled. We tested him. When the cops came knocking on our door only a few months after the wedding, he stood by my brother and me as we bold-faced lied.

“Did you throw rocks at the old lady’s window?” he asked us, responding to a complaint from the neighbor woman—a cranky old bag who hated kids—as the cops waited patiently on our doorstep for an answer.

“No, we didn’t do it,” we protested.

“If my boys say they didn’t do it, they didn’t do it,” he said firmly, closing the door on the cops and sending them away.

Mom came home later that day and got straight to the point with my brother: “Why’d you do it, Nathan?”

“They made me do it,” he wailed, pointing his finger at me.

We both got whooped pretty hard for making our new dad look like a fool in front of the cops. He made clear that his authority was to be respected, or we’d pay the consequences. That was our first taste of fatherly love, Italian style.

“You don’t have to love me, but you will respect me,” was the message, and as time passed I learned to both respect and love my new father.


Dad put a lot of stock into “playing the game right.”

One summer years later, after he’d gotten his licks in as a father, he put together a traveling baseball team, hand-picked the players and helped organize the league. It was forward-thinking at the time for teens our age who wanted to continue playing through the summer, an idea that came long before the now super-hyped, expensive and prestigious traveling leagues we see today with their fancy uniforms and fussy parents and spoiled players telling the coaches what to do.

It was a big treat for us kids, too, getting to play past the usual short season of organized youth baseball; it was a rougher and scrappier kind of game, more in the dirt, and with other talented kids from communities beyond our own whom we’d never met before, and who also loved to play hard and get dirty. It was just the boys and their dads, who helped with the officiating and coaching, steeped in the passion of playing the game.

My dad instilled in me that summer a love for the game that went well beyond just playing good baseball. It had everything to do with how I played, and the way I carried myself on and off the field—do it with class, he’d say.

“If you can’t play the game right, don’t play at all!” he barked at me once when I’d tried a cleats-to-the-face slide into third base. He didn’t like foul play or cheats; he wanted me to know and play the game well enough to take advantage of my opportunities without resorting to cheating or foul play. “It makes you a better player, and others will respect you more when you play the game right,” he said. “You don’t have to cheat to win.”

And he benched me to drive home his point.

During another game, while pitching, I got increasingly frustrated because I was missing the corners, and throwing more balls, and wearing myself down. I still managed to hold off most batters, but was working too hard at it. My frustration got worse and I let anger take over and started throwing harder, straight down the pipe, but still missing, and digging myself into a hole.

My dad saved me from myself and pulled me from the game. But I was angry and didn’t want to leave and, in a fit, threw my glove into the dugout as I came off the field and he glanced up at me over his scorebook and said, “Do you want to sit out the next game, too?”

That’s all he needed to say, and I stewed quietly until the game was over. On the way home, he said, “I pulled you because you were playing blind. You don’t play blind. You’ll end up hurting yourself, or worse, someone else.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant. “I didn’t hit anybody,” I said.

“I didn’t say you were wild. I said you were playing blind. You got too emotional. You let your emotions get in the way of your abilities.” I knew he was right and thought about it for the rest of the summer and still think about it whenever I start feeling like breaking down and “playing blind.”

“You play smart, son. That’s how you win.”


My brother and I, abandoned by our biological father, were hurt, angry little boys when mom remarried and we weren’t quite ready for another man to claim us as his own. From left: Grandma Virginia Thurston Santmyer, Aunt Gretchen Newlon, mom and dad, Uncle MIck, Aunt 'Net at the Presbyterian Church in Laguna Beach.

We were hurt, angry little boys when mom remarried and we weren’t quite ready for another man to claim us as his own.
From left: Grandma Virginia Thurston Santmyer, Aunt Gretchen Newlon, mom and dad, Uncle Mick Radice and his wife, Aunt ‘Net, at the Presbyterian Church in Laguna Beach on their wedding day.

As mom says, we were lucky he took us under his wing, flawed as he might have been, and through him I learned the measure of a man, enough so that I grew fond of him, loved him, and eventually, as a boy of 8, started calling him “dad.”

His most manly asset, though, was his fierce devotion to mom, which counts for a lot in my book. That made him as big a man as any I’ve seen in my life. He took on the role of husband and father where most men might have fled in the other direction.

As an Old School Italian, he was intolerant of disrespect. Once, at the dinner table, my brother mouthed off to mom and dad reached over with his spoon and rapped him on the head. “You don’t talk to your mother that way, ever!” he scolded. While today that correction might be seen as abusive, we got the message loud and clear and never mouthed off to mom again.

He defended and protected her in ways that are only now becoming clear to me as I watch her adjust to widowed life after nearly 45 years of marriage. She seemed to have fewer cares then, he wouldn’t allow her to become anxious or worked up and made sure all her needs were well met. He doted on her.

I seldom heard dad argue with mom; their arguments, he’d say, weren’t anyone’s business but their own. That’s why, when they needed to discuss something that might get heated, they took their personal business behind closed doors. They never raised their voices with each other, at least not around my brother and me.

He assumed the full weight and responsibility of father for children who, at least in the beginning, were not his own, including major expenses such as making sure our teeth were properly straightened.

“There’s my new pickup truck,” he teased when friends came over, and he’d point at me, asking me to smile so they could see my new braces. “Show them my new truck.”

He’d have to wait a few more years before he finally got the truck he’d always wanted but in the meantime he took care of pressing family matters, sacrificing his personal wants, making sure we all had what we needed first.


My biological father, meanwhile, deserted us when I was four; he didn’t put any time or effort into getting to know me, or my brother. He paid us no attention. He was a ghost in my life, a non-person, essentially, whose only historical significance to me was that of sperm donor. As a young boy, I’d ask mom what happened to him.

“You’re better off without him,” she’d say. At first, I’d get mad at her for saying such things; I didn’t believe her. How could I be better off without the man who was supposed to be my father? A boy doesn’t understand these things. He assumes that by rights the man who made birth a possibility would also take an interest in his own children.

After a while, though, I figured she was right, that he probably didn’t care, and that indeed I was better off without him, so I forgot about him, except for the one random visit he made to our home when I was about 10 to discuss visitation arrangements with mom and my new dad.

That was the last time I ever saw him. I heard from him once more when I was in high school and he sent copies of the New World Translation of the Bible favored by Jehovah’s Witnesses to me and my brother.

I took my brother outside with our copies of the “bible,” and showed him how we would appreciate the gifts by placing them in the gutter, pouring on gasoline and setting them on fire. As we watched the thin pages of the bibles crinkle into twisted ash, my grandmother pulled up beside the curb to park her car. She sat staring over the steering wheel, horrified.

What are you doing?” she demanded as she got out of the car.

“Oh, hi grandma, don’t worry; it’s nothing, just burning those fake bibles Jim sent us.”

I’d gotten to calling him Jim because that’s what mom had always called him, never “your father,” whenever she talked about him, which was rare.

The strange thing was I hadn’t thought twice about burning those books, and didn’t realize the real horror of it until I saw grandma’s face when she drove up. No one in the family valued books more than she did, coming from a family of educators; her mother, Marie Harding Thurston, and aunt, Ruth Harding, both had schools named after them.

For me, it was a kind of purgation.

I wanted to be rid of those books, and the false religion, and the show of some kind of weak Christian love from a man who didn’t want to be a father to his children.

Not long after I was married, I thought of seeking him out, to ask him personally why he hadn’t taken an interest in his two sons, but it was too late. He died when I was 23. He was 45, and had started at least two more families besides the one he started with us.

At that point, it didn’t matter much whether we “hit it off” or got on well. I was more interested in finding out what sort of man he was, whether there were patterns and habits of mind that I might have inherited and whether there was anything about which I should be concerned.

But any such opportunity was crushed when mom spoke up casually one afternoon as she and my wife relaxed at the dining table drinking tea and coffee. I was cutting an apple by the sink. “Oh, by the way, Jim died.”

I didn’t expect it to hit me the way it did. I didn’t shed any tears, but it troubled me and left me feeling vacant. My wife graciously walked over and put her arm around me. I must have felt like a sack of potatoes.


I might not have picked my stepfather as the “ideal” model of a man for a young kid looking for a strong father figure, which is what I wanted as a terrified little boy. I would have picked someone like my biological father, whose pictures mom kept showed a man with a powerful, muscular build. My one earliest memory of him, in fact, is of him putting his fist through the bathroom wall.

I learned quickly, however, that my stepfather cared with the kind of devotion that shows real backbone. He made a lot of sacrifices, and paid us a lot of attention. He was our protector, even without the intimidating manly presence a young boy might want in a father.

I’d seen him fearlessly go after people who wronged him or who showed the slightest disrespect, people, for example, who parked their cars in the handicap zone he’d had the city paint on the curb nearest the front door so that grandma could get to her car without trouble.

He’d run out, no matter who it was, and he’d confront the offenders, directing them away from the painted curb. Even the scary looking guys complied.

CULTURE.me-and-dad“Dad, you gotta be careful these days,” I said once during a visit to the old neighborhood, “there are a lot of gang bangers passing through the area now.”

“I don’t care,” he said, “they don’t belong there.”

I seldom heard whatever he said to people as they rummaged through his trash on trash days; but he’d shoosh them away and off they’d go.

“I don’t want people digging through my trash or my recycle,” he’d say, sitting back down into his chair to read the morning newspaper. “I pay money for the city to come pick those up. If they want to dig through the trash, let them go to the dump.”

As a father myself, I determined as much as possible not to be like my biological father, who it seemed to me, quit when the family he created put demands on him that he wasn’t ready to meet. He became a flyboy. He fled, spawning more families along the way, leaving more abandoned, fatherless children in his path.

I swore that I would never do that to my child; that I would never flee from my responsibilities, that I would break the cycle, as much as possible, and try to be a meaningful manly presence in my daughter’s life. I failed on many levels to give her what she needed but she knows that I love her and will not abandon her. She’s the apple of my eye.

Without my stepfather’s example, though, I might never have known what it means to be a father. Over the years, I’ve tried to emulate his commitment and respect and love for family. Mom was right. We were lucky to have found him. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.



(Summer Travel Tips from Ben Leroux)

Tip #1: “Don’t Be a Comedian”

IMG_0956Are you funny? When you’re in a hotel lobby, do you feel a calling—no, an obligation—to entertain those present with your comedic stylings? Well, this summer, as you and your family check into your favorite hotel, motel, or B&B, in your favorite vacation town, you might want to consider leaving your act in the car. What you consider funny, and brightening up the shift of a dreary-eyed frontdesk clerk, may in fact be having the opposite effect, and causing you more harm than good. Unless your objective is to turn that frontdesk clerk against you, for the duration of your stay, and perhaps for life, you might want to consider keeping your puns, riddles, one-liners, and double-entendres where they belong—inside your unimaginative, unoriginal, untalented brain and resist the temptation of acting like Ted Blankenship of Woodland Hills, California (standard double-queen, three nights, on an American Express, party of four). I’d barely pulled his arrival slip when he’d spotted the “No Pets Allowed” sign.

“Uh-oh,” he said, a cocksure golf-vested man of carefully parted hair.

“What is it, honey?” said a featureless woman of middle age, moving up next to him.

“Looks like you’re going to have to sleep in the car.”

“In the car? Why?”

Blankenship pointed to the sign. “No pets allowed,” he said.

A girl and a boy, 11 and 12 maybe, cupped their hands over their mouths to muffle their laughter. Soon Mrs. Blankenship caught the giggles and they were all laughing.

“Oh, Ted!” said Mrs. Blankenship.

“Daddy!” lisped the brace-toothed daughter. “You’re crazy!”

“He’s at it again!” said the crackle-voiced boy. “Yeah!”

Mrs. Blankenship stepped up to the counter, tears in her eyes. “I’m so sorry you have to deal with us. He’s like this everywhere we go.”

“It’s okay” I said. “Now, if I could just see a major credit card, I’ll get you checked into your—”

See?” said Blankenship. He had his AmEx out, holding it up from a distance, showing it to me.

“Ted, leave the poor man alone!” laughed Mrs. Blankenship.

“What? He said he wanted to see a credit card, so I’m letting him see one. Isn’t that what you asked for, Ben, to see a credit card? I’m sorry, Ben. I’m just kidding you.”

The AmEx came skidding across the counter. I caught it just before it fell and in one motion turned and swiped it through the credit card reader. I wanted to get Blankenship out of the lobby. Twice already I’d shot him my “look,” a look that was about ninety percent effective with lobby comics but hadn’t phased him in the slightest. The credit card machine was old and slow, giving Blankenship more stage time.

“Yeah, go ahead and run the card, Ben. It doesn’t have any money on it, but go ahead and run it. I found it in the parking lot.”

“My god, Ted!” said Mrs. Blankenship.

“He’s really on a roll!” lisped the Blankenship girl.

“I think it’s HILARIOUS!” said the beaming boy.

Mrs. Blankenship caught her breath and stepped forward. “You poor guy! We’re such a weird family!”

The AmEx cleared. I placed it on the counter, next to a pen for Shecky Greene to sign with.

“You’re alright, Ben,” Blankenship said. “You’re alright.”

He began signing his name in exaggerated cursive that filled the entire receipt. Each curve and loop drew little squeaks from the girl. When it came time to dot his “i,” Blankenship lifted the pen about a foot over the slip and let it drop, point first, like a falling dart. The ink hit the mark and the pen fell to the side. “There y’go, Ben. Want a DNA sample, now?”

That got the boy going, which got the mother and daughter going again, and I had to wait for them to quiet down before moving onto the amenities.  Few people listened to the amenities and even fewer remembered them, but hotel lobby comedians loved them. Each one was a potential laugh. I got as far as the hot tub with Blankenship.

“Clothing optional, I hope,” he interrupted. “My wife likes to skinny dip.”

“Ted!” gasped Mrs. Blankenship.

“Daddy!” spat the girl.

“He does it again!” beamed Junior. “Awesome!”

The man of the moment leaned over. In a confidential tone he said: “It’s true, Ben. She sees a hot tub, and off come the clothes.”

“Is that right?” I said.

“‘Is that right?’ Ben says.” Blankenship slapped the counter, took a couple steps away, returned. “Is that right. Ben, you’re priceless. I like you, Ben.”

“Thanks,” I said.

There wasn’t an amenity Blankenship didn’t have a cute little rhyme or wordplay for. He had cracks about the continental breakfast and the free movies, the microwavable popcorn and hot chocolate we provided in the rooms. I somehow got the Blankenships onto the elevator and up to their room, 206, though both 209 and 211 were vacant due to cancellations and identical to 206 except that their balconies didn’t face a fifty-foot crane from the boatyard across the street. Unfortunately, with his decision to be a hotel lobby comedian, Blankenship had set in motion certain frontdesk realities that were not reversible. I entered the Blankenships’ information on the computer, filed their registration slip, and went outside.

I leaned against a pillar and watched a sunset flatten behind the sandspit. The autumn air was coated with woodsmoke and sauteed onions from the seafood joints.  Life smelled good. It was my first night alone at my latest gig—Diggarinni’s Waterview Inn, a 24-roomer at the south end of the Embarcadero. It was no accident I’d ended up here. It was at my first hotel job, ten years ago, a job I’d hated immediately, and had only taken as a last resort, that I’d gotten my first taste of a thing called “downtime.”

CITY LIFE.DESK CLERKThis downtime, or “boredom” as it was also known, was a big problem for many frontdesk clerks, driving many of them to quit. I however, found I liked downtime quite well, and that it could be filled with the only activity I cared about in life, which was writing. Apparently, during these downtimes, hotels still needed people manning frontdesks in case there was a room to sell or a toilet to unplug. As I tasted more and more of this downtime, I began to formulate a mathematical theory that the smaller the hotel was, the less activity there would be, and therefore, more downtime, and I theorized that if I was patient, and kept an eye on Craigslist, that one day soon, I’d find a frontdesk job that was not only bearable, but enjoyable, one where I could finish my novel, Squeegee Road, a piece of work that was going to one day make the literary world forget it had ever heard of Jack Kerouac.

It took some time to work my way down. I worked 300- 100-, and 50-room hotels, and when the ad for Diggarinni’s Waterview Inn came up on Craigslist it was almost as if it had been written specifically for me. For some reason, I had a hard time getting an interview, but I didn’t let it deter me, and I kept going back until I got the job. After just a few moments at the tranquil little inn, consisting of only two floors of rooms,  I could tell that by reporting there five nights a week, I would finish it before the end of my first year, and now, after a week’s training, I was alone for the first time, taking advantage of my downtime. I sat at the little back desk, in front of my cheap laptop, and got to work. I was converting the thirty or so 5,000-word stories I’d had published in a local mag, into manageable 2,000-word chapters. It wasn’t that easy.  There was a lot of hunting and cutting to do, but there were so few interruptions that it was almost like working at home. Around 7:30 p.m., the Blankenship boy called, crackling and giggling about room service, then few minutes later asking what floor the casino was on, the old man coaching him in the background, but after that the only interruptions were the remaining arrivals, all of which were, like most hotel guests, decent, respectful, and cooperative, and since it was a slow night in October, they all received free upgrades to bigger, nicer rooms with better views. Around 9 p.m., I started the night audit—a major affair at most hotels, it took about ten keystrokes and fifteen minutes at the Waterview. I printed the results, locked up the lobby and hopped on my bike. On the way home, I stopped at Sixpacker Liquor for a bottle. By eleven I was on my couch in time for the start of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.  I’d somehow scored a great apartment too—a writer’s apartment with a view of the Pacific. My luck was turning.

The next day I went in early. For the first time since my interview I was going to sit down and talk with my new boss, Brenda Fonee.  I liked her. She’d impressed me immediately with her calm confidence and personable, professional speech and appearance. She’d done it right, as far as I was concerned, working fifteen years at a sweet, manageable property like the Waterview. Let the stress-loving whackos work the monster hotels. I wanted to please this Brenda Fonee. I wanted her to think highly of me.

We started with small talk, getting to know each other, then Brenda began explaining to me why I’d had such difficulty getting an interview.  She’d wanted to hire me on the spot, but the other two frontdesk clerks, Lauren and Jenni-Jo, had fought her. They were in their twenties and uncomfortable with the idea of having a man in his forties on the staff.  Well, I guess I could understand it, but I wouldn’t turn my back on those two again. Throughout my training they’d both told me repeatedly how they’d lobbied to get me hired over Brenda’s reluctance. You just never knew. Next came Carl, the maintenance man. I’d already had my suspicions about him. He was an odd cookie. Brenda filled me in. He had “mental problems,”  was a liar, and anytime he didn’t get his way he ran to the owners to get her in trouble. The owners. They were another story. Howard and Goldie Diggarinni. Well, the hotel hadn’t been the same since Goldie, or “The Queen,” as Brenda called her, had taken over. Together, Carl and The Queen were making her life a living hell and driving her into early retirement. She was no longer allowed to manage like she wanted to, she could no longer take time off when she needed, and Carl wouldn’t listen to her. At times she felt like The Queen’s “nigger-bitch.”  It shouldn’t have been a big shock to me. Once you looked inside a place, no matter how tranquil it seemed on the outside, there was always dirt, somewhere.

Still, considering the asylums I’d worked in, the Waterview Inn would be ridiculously easy duty, and the faster I got at my job, the more downtime I’d earn for myself.  I was glad I’d come in early to talk to Brenda Fonee. She’d cut to the chase, let me know how things were. She ended our talk by promising me that she’d always protect me from Lauren and Jenni-Jo, and that she’d always protect me, Lauren, and Jenni-Jo from Carl and The Queen. When the talk was over, she asked me how my first night alone had gone.

“Smooth,” I said. “Except for the guy in 206—Blankenship. The comedian.”

“Oh, yes. I met him this morning. Some people just think they’re funny, don’t they? You know who’s funny? Glenn Beck.”

“Boy is he ever,” I said, glad to be sharing a light moment with my new boss. “In fact, without Glenn Beck, I don’t think Jon Stewart would even have a show. Half his material is just rolling tape of the guy. Did you see him crying the other day? Yeah, I can’t get enough of Beck.”

I was chuckling delightedly but they were chuckles I’d soon swallow, and it would be three years before I’d feel the full ramifications of the dizzying turn of events that was about to take place.  All I knew at the moment was that something was wrong. Brenda Fonee’s round maternal face was slackening, and her mouth was dropping ajar. A trap had been set, I’d tripped it, and the steel jaws were clamped tightly around my ankle and digging into bone. I wanted to shake it off. But just then, Carl the maintenance man came down the back stairwell, stepped into the office, and saw Brenda’s face.

“What?” he said.

Brenda was pointing at me, moving her lips, but nothing was coming out.

“What’s wrong?” said Carl. “What the hell’s going on?”

“He… he’s…” Brenda said, “H-he’s…a…Dem.

The first thing I saw was Squeegee Road flash before my eyesnot my job, or life, but Squeegee Road. I knew how much longer it would take to finish it, working a job with no downtime, and unless I did something quick, it was all over. I could tell by Brenda and Carl’s faces that this was a big deal. The two of them were on me like  a couple of mobsters.

“Howard and Goldie hate Dems,” Carl said.

“You wouldn’t have been hired if they’d known,” said Brenda.

“No,” said Carl. “You better not let them find out.”

The phone rang and I had to get up and take it. It was a reservation. While I was on the phone booking it, I could hear them behind me, keeping their voices low. I needed to get back there to straighten things up, explain that I was no Dem—that I was in fact nothing, nothing but a marginal small-town writer looking for a peaceful job with lots of downtime. But then an arrival came in, and then a walk-in, and then the UPS man, and by the time I got away from the counter, Carl and Brenda had gone home for the day, and I was left alone with a gnawing fear festering in the pit of my stomach.

I went outside to my pillar and leaned. Morro Rock was being outlined in pink fire, but I didn’t find it pretty.  I always failed to see traps until my foot was all the way in. Why was it that everywhere you went, someone was always pushing you into one camp or the other? If it wasn’t politics it was cliques, or sports teams.  Life wasn’t much different from prison. Even at little places like the Waterview you had to choose a gang.

I watched the sun fade, trying to sort things out. As the bay went inky I’d come to a couple conclusions. One was that these Diggarinnis were serious about politics and probably saw Jon Stewart, and anyone who watched him as a degenerate, treasonous enemy of the United States, and by extension, Morro Bay, which made the second conclusion easy: I was finished at the Waterview. Oh, I could probably stick it out for a year or so, but sooner or later shit would come down on me. Just like Blankenship, with one little wisecrack, I’d set in motion a little chain of realities that could not be undone, and Squeegee Road would have to go on the back burner again. I’d give Brenda my notice in the morning.

I went back in and sat down at the laptop. I had two weeks of downtime left and I wasn’t going to waste them. I could still get a a few stories converted.

But my fingers wouldn’t move. My brain was heating up with anger.

For starters, wasn’t over half the damn country Dem?

And unless we’d gone back in time, people who owned businesses no longer owned the people who worked in them. There was also a little thing called “symbiosis,” where people like me needed the Diggarinnis for their money and downtime, but people like the Diggarinnis needed people like me to sell their rooms and put up with people like Blankenship.

No, goddammit, I was not giving up my job at Diggarinni’s Waterfront Inn, with all its delicious downtime! Besides, I’d hardly see these people. Nobody wanted to be anywhere near a hotel after five o’clock, not even frontdesk clerks, which was why they were so valuable.  The Waterview and I were made for each other! And I suppose that if push came to shove, and my hand was forced by the Diggarinnis, I could stage a public conversion to the Right. Why not?  Last time I checked, the Dems weren’t paying my rent.

Suddenly my fingers were moving, laptop keys clacking and smoking. All a writer needed was a little peace, a little time. The cheap laptop could barely keep up with me! A short story was coming out. Lots of them were going to come out with all this downtime. Soon, I’d make people forget they’d ever read a Raymond Carver short. I typed and hammered. The only interruptions were the three or four remaining arrivals, all good docile guests, and around nine o’clock, a phone call.

“Thank you for calling Diggarinni’s Waterview Inn,” I answered. “This is Ben. How can I help you?”

Delivery?” It was a man’s voice, choppy.

“No,” I said “Diggarinni’s. Diggarinni’s Waterview Inn. May I help you?”

“Not delivery?”

“No, Diggarinni’s.”

“If it’’s not delivery, it must be DiGiorno.”

In the background, a female passenger was overcome with hysterical laughter, and the caller had begun laughing so hard he was now stuttering.

“W-we’ll t-take a pep-pep-pepperoni—ah, god, man, I can’t keep it up. Hey, this is Steve. Steve and Wendy? The Corbins?  We stay there all the time, usually in room—”

“Hey, Steve. Could I put you on hold for a second?”

“Sure, man, sure.”

Steve was going to be on hold a lot longer than a second.

There simply had to be consequences. By the sound of the connection, he’d be losing his signal any moment, and that time in the dark, winding mountains of the Central Coast would give him and Wendy time to think about their pizza prank. Besides, I couldn’t talk to babbling fools. Out the window, in the moonlight, I could see billows of fog nesting around the masts of sailboats, and another one circling Morro Rock like a gauzy porkpie hat. Harbor seals were barking themselves to sleep. I wasn’t going anywhere, baby. They’d have to fire me then physically remove me.

The next time I looked at the phone console, Steve and Wendy’s line was no longer lit up, which was a good thing that in the long run would make them better people. It was time for me to start closing.

But then I saw Blankenship and his boy getting off the elevator. They were on their way into the lobby with reddened, mischievous faces. Probably they’d been playing with elevator buttons on the way down. It was a popular father/son activity. Blankenship went over to our  pamphlet rack and the kid came to the counter by himself. He asked me for the catalog of our DVD movies. He leafed through a couple pages then asked me, with no fear whatsoever: “Do you have insomnia?” From the pamphlet rack, Blankenship snorted.

From what you’ve learned thus far, about hotel lobby comedians, from the perspective of a former frontdesk clerk, you can probably guess what the Blankenship boy was up to. Certain titles had double meanings if phrased a certain way, and if you asked someone if they had one of these titles, like “Insomnia,” “Doubt,” or “Sixteen Candles,” any answer could be used for further shenanigans. It was the kind of shit that entertained people like the Blankenships for hours on end and turned hotel frontdesk clerks against them. I even tried my “look” on the kid, but his affliction was hereditary. An adulthood of bad hotel rooms and overall sub-par service awaited him and his family to be. The problem that Abbot & Costello had was that they really had come down to select movies, for the family to watch over popcorn and hot chocolate, the perfect ending to a Morro Bay day of beachcombing and shopping, and they now had to rely on a frontdesk clerk that they’d tried to use for a goof, to issue them those DVDs. I took no pleasure in denying them their selections. I did not enjoy falsely apologizing that the movies had been checked out by other guests, and I received no satisfaction in watching Martin & Lewis walk sadly to the elevator with their two very bad movies from the 1990s. Part of me even wanted to run them down and give them the DVDs they’d asked for.

But sometimes it was just too late to go back. It was too late for Blankenship to go back to the moment he’d walked into the lobby as Henny Youngman, and it was too late for me to go back to the moments right before I’d stepped into Brenda’s Fonee’s trap, baited with a fresh steaming hunk of Glenn Beck.

That’s why it’s important, for any hotel guest this summer, and for future excursions as well, to keep in mind that no matter how funny you may find yourself, resisting the temptation of being a hotel lobby comedian may be the smartest decision you make. Before you make that first crack, stop and ask yourself if the few giggles you are about to receive are worth having your  DVD selection limited. Or whether a cute phone prank is worth being put on hold over, never be heard from again. Is being the center of attention for a brief moment worth being assigned to the only room in the hotel facing a fifty-foot crane?

You never know what kind of person might be greeting you from behind that frontdesk, welcoming you to their hotel. He or she could be perfectly stable, or recently driven crazy by hotel work, suffering from too much, or not enough, downtime, and been through things in the past 24 hours that you may not understand, things that have warped and bruised their senses of humor into rotting, acerbic callouses. Remember, too, that no frontdesk clerk is very highly paid.

Pedaling away from the Waterview that night, I saw who had to be Steve and Wendy Corbin, rolling down Embarcadero Street in their sportscar. They’d just spotted the darkened lobby and the NO VACANCY sign. I can’t tell you if they’d  miscalculated their travel time, or if they’d forgotten that their favorite hotel closed at ten, but I can tell you that they were no longer laughing. §

Ben Leroux keeps a low profile and works only those jobs that feed his writing habit.