Blaine Lucas hates tourists. He hates their excited smiles and sweat-stained tee shirts and patchy sunburns and the way they always balance things- luggage, shopping bags, children- when they approach the check-in desk. He hates their constant needs…I NEED a nonsmoking room, I NEED more towels, I NEED turn-down service. And he especially hates it when they say moronic lines like…
"Hey fella, got a room for us?"
A classic. Mid-forties, Blaine guesses, with a balding head and rumpled clothing. Probably good looking long ago before the wife and kids destroyed his good time. Under one arm is a little boy, maybe two or three, kicking at his father’s ribs and yelling for “uh ows-cream cone.” Behind The Guy stands The Wife; seersucker shorts and perfectly matching polo shirt, perfectly manicured fingernails gripping a perfect stroller, looking perfectly bored while the baby inside spills some sort of juice onto the Spanish tile.
“Reservation. It’s under Halloran.”
“Of course, Mr. Halloran.” Dude, shut that kid up.
“Halloran. 3 nights, nonsmoking. Two double beds and a crib.”
“WANT OW--SCREAM! OWSCREAM!”
“I made it online.”
“Yes, sir.” Shut that effing kid up!
“Is it there? Halloran. H-A-L…”
“Yes, Mr. Halloran. We have you staying with us for three nights in a room with two double beds at a rate of $115.00 per night.” Shut the kid up, pal, or give it some goddamned ice cream.
The kid makes a break for it. The Wife watches him go.
“What credit card will you be using today?” Get your kid, lady!
“No, no no. The Internet said it was 89.00 a night.”
“I UH AIRPWANE, DADDY! LOOK, DADDY!”
Here we go.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Halloran. The 89.00 room rate is for single occupancy.” Lady, get your fucking kid!
The guy’s eyes are dull. They’ve probably been dead for a long time. The kid is now systematically removing every brochure from the courtesy kiosk, one at a time.
“It didn’t say that on the Internet.”
Yes it fucking did say that on the internet, douchebag.
The Wife looks at the kid. “Brayson, sweetness. Let's not do that.”
Brayson ignores her. The baby in the stroller starts to cry. Blaine considers reaching over and smacking it.
“I'm very sorry for the misunderstanding, sir.”
“Listen, friend. I was promised a room for 89 a night, and I expect to get that rate.”
The Guy straightens himself up, and Blaine is almost impressed at his little show. Almost. Until The Wife snaps out of whatever Xanax-induced day trip she's been on and approaches the counter. The Guy's shoulders visibly sink. Blaine imagines that his balls shrink back into his body at the same time The Wife says, “Let me speak to your manager.”
Two years. It’s been two long, mind-numbing, soul crushing years of torment at the hands of a crappy chain hotel with ugly plastic decor and the sweaty, entitled families that patronize it. Two years stuck in the same town he long-ago vowed to leave forever and never return. God damn, he is a loser. He knows he’s a loser. Every morning he stares at the bloated, pock-marked, thirty-something loser version of the kid he was before looking back at him in a filthy mirror that he keeps meaning to clean yet never seems to get around to.
The plan was supposed to be law school. Everybody said that he was a natural-born arguer. He had the brains for it, too, even though he never studied very hard. He didn’t get into any of the big schools, but he did get into a respectable political science program a few states away. Right now, at this moment, Blaine is supposed to be addressing the jury in a big case. Or maybe eating Chinese takeout behind a shiny, mahogany desk with one of those fancy green desk lamps while he studies important documents. Like they do in the movies. Because in the movies, things work out for the hero. In real life, one brief, terrible moment leads the hero down a road that ends with a miserable job and a paycheck-to-paycheck life that has zero meaning.
“Excuse me. Do you work here?”
No, you douche. I dress up in a polyester uniform and stand behind a desk because someone told me it would cure cancer. “How may I assist you today, sir?”
His suit hangs on him like he borrowed it from a rich bachelor uncle. His hair is slick and full of some sort of shiny product. He’s wearing silver cuff links with tiny diamonds and the clouds of cologne that he undoubtedly bathed in smells vaguely of baby powder and pine. He has an ear piece in one ear, and when he holds out the “wait a minute, peasant” finger to Blaine, an obnoxiously large gold watch peeks out from his suit jacket.
Blaine waits. The Suit says, “yeah, yeah. Right, man, make it two grand” before turning his attention back to the welcome desk.
“I said, do you work here?”
Eff you, man. “Yes sir, I work here. How can I help you?”
The Suit smirks. “Yeah, I’m going to need two suites for the next five nights.”
Goddamn prick. “I apologize, sir. We don’t have any availability this week.”
“Listen. You and I both know you have rooms right now. So let’s cut the cute shit. I need two suites for five nights.”
Blaine feels the old familiar chill through his nervous system-the same feeling he gets when preparing for a fight. Why does it always have to be a fight?
“Again, I apologize, sir, but-”
The Suit is really agitated now. Apparently no one ever says no to The Suit. “You know who I am? My name is Sam Barker. That’s B-A-R-K-E-R-”
A switch flips. He knows a Barker. Or rather, he knew a Barker. Todd Barker. That was his name. Todd Barker. Good ole’ Todd Barker, who once got ridiculously drunk on Southern Comfort and fell through Blaine’s 14th story dorm room window before Blaine’s smart lawyer brain ever had a chance to process what was happening.
“Yes, Mr. Barker, I’m very sorry, but-”
“Kid, I’m not shittin’ around here. I need a goddamn suite and I need it now. Now if you can’t do it, go fetch me your goddamn manager or anyone else that has more than the one brain cell you got.”
Good ole’ Todd Barker. The cops always thought Blaine pushed him out of that window. Man, how they yelled at him about it. They just kept asking and asking and asking what happened. Over and over and over. They wouldn’t even let him out of that room to piss. Truth is, Blaine may have pushed him. He can never remember for sure. There had been a lot of acid around that night. It made those cops super angry, though, that they could never actually prove it in court.
Good ole’ dummy Todd Barker. Fell 14 stories and took with him Blaine’s college education, Blaine’s reputation and any chance Blaine ever had at a life beyond this stupid fake marble desk and this piece of human garbage in a suit, who is and always will be better than Blaine.
“Buddy, are you even listening to me?”
I hate you, Buddy.